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The Turkish navy on Tuesday inducted its first locally built warship into its fleet, marking the event with a ceremony at Turkey’s Pendik shipyard in Ankara.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the induction ceremony, which commemorated the ship’s becoming operational. He was joined by President Abdullah Gal, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz and Chief of Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel.
The new ship, named Heybeliada, is a 99-meter corvette class warship displacing 2,300 metric tons, bigger than the largest corvette class that Israel fields today, the INS Sa’ar.
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The Heybeliada’s development is part of Turkey’s $3 billion effort to produce naval vessels locally, or MILGEM (national ships), a Defense News report said. Turkey also announced the completion of a similar Buyukada corvette class ship, though it has yet to become operational.
The Heybeliada is capable of reconnaissance and surveillance, patrolling, base and coastal defense, anti-submarine warfare, as well as performing anti-air and amphibious transport roles. The Turkish ship can also carry a 10-ton helicopter on its deck.
More than 65% of the development and construction for the Heybeliada occurred locally. It is to be sold to what Turkey deems “allied and friendly countries,” according to a Hurriyet Daily News report. The report notes the future goal of the MILGEM project is the construction of a locally designed frigate, a much larger ship class that carries immense firepower.
“Turkey’s interests in the seas reach from surrounding waters out to Suez Canal and Indian Ocean,” Erdogan said at the ceremony.
The Heybeliada induction occured against the backdrop of Erdogan’s increased emphasis on deploying his navy to serve Turkey’s regional interests, among them escorting research vessels drilling for oil around the island of Cyprus, which on Tuesday began exploration less than 40 miles from a U.S. and Greek Cypriot drilling platform, the Hurriyet reported. Erdogan has also repeatedly threatened to send a naval escort to accompany a potential future flotilla sailing to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Turkey’s quest for locally produced military superiority has been more successful than its aerial drone project. The Anka, a Turkish unmanned aircraft, was hailed as “the most useful asset in fighting terrorism,” according to a Turkish procurement official, but the Turkish air force is currently struggling to land it properly. Every test flight has resulted in a crash landing, according to Hurriyet.
Turkey has long sought to deploy aerial drones, essential for reconnaissance and covert strike operations. In tandem with its domestic development, Turkey purchased 10 Israel Aerospace Industries Heron drones before diplomatic relations between to two countries deterioriated last year, but now, following a breakdown in relations, are looking to avoid additional trade with Israel, the Hurriyet reported. Instead, Turkey has reportedly struck a deal with the U.S. to procure predator drones. By agreeing to the construction of an advanced radar for NATO’s missile defense system in its south-east border, a project largely meant to offset Iran’s missile threats to Europe, Turkey will reportedly gain access to the surveillance and armed versions of the U.S. drone.
Turkey’s ultimate goal, however, is to field its own domestically produced drones. “Our top priority will be the full functioning of our own UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), the Anka,” a Turkish Aerospace Industries official told Hurriyet.
With ambitious projects to upgrade and overhaul its military, Turkey plans to boost its defense spending by 8% for 2011. The defense budget is also set to receive an additional $1.1 billion for the year, according to a Business Monitor report. “We will continue, without hesitation, to bring into action anything that our national interests require,” Erdogan said.
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