Ships, Lies and Hybrid War

Tassos Tsiplakos - South East Med Energy & Defense Analyst

The “Blue Homeland 2019” exercise is held in the Eastern Mediterranean, Aegean and in the Black Sea simultaneously and is the largest naval exercise ever held in Turkey. It has been described by Turkish media as a “war rehearsal” which aims to send a clear message to Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and whoever else disputes Ankara’s declared interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. The exercise is coordinated by the Turkish Naval War Center Command and will last through March 8.

Turkey’s "strategic targets"

In many aspects, this is not a standard annual wargame played by the Turkish Naval Forces. There was one such major exercise the Turkish Navy had held in June 1998, Turkish naval elements spread over the Mediterranean. One group was deployed east of Malta and the other west of Crete, before launching a virtual battle with the participation of the Turkish air force. That was the largest exercise ever held by the Turkish navy in the Mediterranean and was meant as a response to the tension with Greece at that time.

When nations stage grandiose military games it is usually a kind of a signal. The Turkish media say the exercise is actually a message to the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), a coalition formed recently by Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. The alliance plans to explore energy sources in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, including disputed areas. This show of force on the maritime domain will surely be closely watched by these nations.

Turkey views maintaining its presence as a regional player, with a role on the energy chessboard, as being of vital importance. It seeks a role not as an extra but as a real player that can gain the greatest possible benefits.

The fact that Cyprus’ EEZ attracts the huge interest of energy companies due to its significant deposits and the prospect of the construction of a LNG terminal on the island, increases Turkey’s aggressiveness and hostility in demanding a piece of the pie. Especially after yesterday's announcements of Exxon Mobil's that the size of the natural gas reservoir "Glaucus 1" ranges between 5 and 8 trillion cubic feet, which is the largest find in the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone so far.

The U.S., France, Israel, Italy, and Qatar are acting in Cyprus’ EEZ and new moves are being planned in the effort to settle the Cyprus problem. Visiting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer has urged all sides interested in the goings-on in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to practice restraint and reiterated Washington’s support for United Nations-backed efforts for a solution on the island entailing a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Palmer said that the US hopes the development of the island’s natural reserves will provide incentives for a solution. Foreign diplomats – including US Ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt – have in the past expressed concerns over a prospective military “accident” due to the large concentration of firepower and heightened tensions in the region.

Ankara’s clearly stated objective is to co-administer with the Republic of Cyprus the latter’s huge hydrocarbons deposits and to control regional energy routes. The Greek side is convinced that Turkey’s aggressive actions in Cyprus’ EEZ and in the Aegean aim to establish de facto situations at the expense of the sovereign rights of both Cyprus and Greece. The Greek Foreign Ministry is closely monitoring the situation in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean and the Hellenic Navy has been placed in a constant state of readiness to respond to any challenge from Ankara. Israel, the US, and France are all monitoring Ankara’s moves in the region as well.

The Media War

For the sea, air, and land manouevres Ankara has issued a NAVTEX tying up areas of the Southeastern Aegean and the Southeastern Mediterranean, including the continental shelf of the Greek island of Kastelorizo, the area southeast of Rhodes, and the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus, a total area of 462,000-square metres.

The Turkish daily "Yeni Safak" reported that the exercise is a means for “…Turkey’s armed forces to bolster their sovereignty over 462 square kilometres of sea and will send a clear warning for those who are preparing maps for invasion”. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency reported that a total of 103 vessels are taking part in the drill. The flotilla includes 13 frigates, 6 corvettes, 16 assault boats, 7 submarines, 7 mine hunting vessels, 14 patrol boats, as well as other navy vessels. Anadolu described the exercise as a huge “show of force” because aside from over 100 ships, also participating will be SAT and SAS commando units, land forces and the Turkish Coast Guard.

It is reported that more than 80% of all corvettes, fast attack craft, and patrol boats, currently not deployed to a mission are taking part in this exercise. Turkish media report also that an impressive 93% of all frigates have sailed away. Whether these claims are true remains to be seen. To keep so many ships for 10 days at sea requires a good and strong logistical support. The test of the logistical support Turkey can provide to its deployed forces, is one of the important issues of this exercise.

So what makes this exercise novel

  • Unmanned aircraft and autonomous unmanned vehicles will be used together with the manned systems. The short ranged Bayraktar and the longer range ANKA UAV’s are in service with the Turkish Navy. Bayraktar can carry smart micro munition. ANKA can be controlled via satellite thus enabling it to fly long-range missions. The Gavia autonomous unmanned vehicles can detect mines down to 1.000m depth. Previous systems on board of the mine hunters were limited down to 270m. The integration of these modern systems into existing capabilities must be tested.
  • The usage of command, control, communication, and intelligence systems. Turkish Navy has been trying to increase its awareness over the maritime domain. A lot has been invested in land-based long-range radar systems, airborne early warning aircraft and in data linking ability. These have to be tried and assessed.
  • In the pre-exercise briefing, it has been announced that a locally developed computer-based naval warfare simulator (game) will be used during this exercise. With the help of this system, the commanders will be able to make decisions based on the played scenarios rendered from real-life situations.
  • The validation of the effectiveness of the Naval Warfare Center established last year. 165 strong staff will be running this large exercise.

The most important part of the exercise will be the port visits made by the Turkish warships. Between 6th and 8th March, 40 ports will be visited by 67 participating naval units, 7 of which are foreign ports. Turkish warships will visit, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russian Federation, Georgia and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The simultaneous visits to the Black Sea riparian states have a high symbolic value. Foreign Ministries are not the only ones to shape external policy. Any port call is a diplomatic mission, providing an opportunity for official meetings and public diplomacy, with the events covered by media. Naval visits reflect foreign policy trends. For the present, Turkey seems to be the only nation that can perform such a diplomatic show of force. It is not a small event to do port visits in 5 different nations at the same time.

In conclusion, this exercise is a military drill to turn the concepts of Turkish Armed Forces into doctrines. This exercise is a political act to show that Turkey will protect its interests on the high seas.

What is the real strength of the Turkish Navy today*

16 frigates (Gaziantep, Giresun, Gemlik, Gelibolu, Gokceada, Gediz, Gokova, Goksu, Salihreis, Kemalreis, Barbaros, Orucreis, Yavuz, Turgutreis, Fatih, Yildirim): 8 ex-US Oliver Hazard Perry class, 4 MEKO 200TN Block I and 4 MEKO 200TN Block IIA/B.

The 8 ex-US Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates were delivered in 1998-2001. They are the only naval assets with an area air defence capability equipped with SM-1R mid-range anti-aircraft missiles. The 4 Track IIA/B frigates of German origin entered service during 1995 to 2000. The four MEKO 4N Track I frigates, also of German origin, entered service during 1987-1989. The three Turkish-built ADA class MILGEM corvettes, entered service during 2014-2018 and the 6 D 'ESTIENNE D'ORVES' class were acquired second-handed from France during 2001 to 2002.

9 corvettes (Heybeliada, Buyukada, Burgazada, Bozcaada, Bodrum, Bandirma, Beykoz, Bartin, Bafra): 3 ADA class built in Turkey under the MILGEM National Ship Program, and 6 D 'ESTIENNE D'ORVES class of French origin

12 submarines (Preveze, Sakarya, 18 Mart, Anafartalar, Gur, Canakkale, Burakreis, I. Inonu, Batiray, Yildiray, Doganay, Dolunay): 4 Type 209/1200 (2 upgraded), 4 PREVEZE class Type 2009T1/1400 and 4 GUR class 2009T2/1400 mod.

19 fast attack missile craft (Kilic, Kalkan, Mizrak, Tufan, Meltem, Imbat, Zipkin, Atak, Bora, Yildiz, Karayel, Dogan, Marti, Tayfun, Volkan, Ruzgar, Poyraz, Gurbet, Firtina)

16 large patrol boats (Tuzla, Karaburun, Koycegiz, Kumkale, Tarsus, Karabiga, Karsiyaka, Tekirdag, Kas, Kilimli, Turkeli, Tasucu, Karatas, Karpaz, Eregli, Kusadasi).

11 minehunters (Alanya, Amasra, Ayvalik, Akcakoca, Anamur, Akcay, Edincik, Edremit, Enez, Erdek, Erdemli)

2 training/escort ships (Geyazirli Gazi Hasan Pasa, Sokullu Mehmet Pasa)

2 replenishment ships (Akar, Yb. Kudret Gungor)

6 tank landing ships of which some are used also for minelaying (Bayraktar, Sancaktar, Osman Gazi, Sarucabey, Karamurselbey, Iskenderun)

3 submarine rescue and support ships (Alemdar, Isin, Ikin)

20 large tank landing craft

7 MPA aircraft

33 ASW helicopters

Deliveries over the past decade have included:

  • 3 ADE class corvettes (one more expected to be delivered in 2019)
  • Completion of the modernization program for 4 GIRESUN class frigates (formerly Oliver Hazard Perry class). This involved the installation of a ESSM RIM-162B missile Mk 41 vertical launch missile system (22 km range), retaining the Mk 13 launcher for the SM-1MR missiles (37 km range) and installation of a new GENESIS combat system.
  • Completion of a modernization program for the Track II A/B frigates. This entailed the installation of two Mk 41 vertical launch system 8 cell modules and replacement of the Mk 29 Mod 4 rotating launcher, installation of a new 3D SMART-S Mk2 air and surface surveillance main radar and installation of a new GENESIS Combat Management System.
  • Completion of the modernization program for the 2 type 209/1200 submarines with the installation of the American Raytheon INS system, German Zeiss periscopes and the underwater version of the ARES-2 electronic support system (ESM) by Turkish-Aselsan.

Under construction today are:

  • The fourth ADA class Turkish corvette of the MILGEM national ship program (delivered January 2019).
  • The first (out of a planned acquisition of four) Turkish-built ISTANBUL class frigates under the MILGEM national ship program. Estimated delivery of the first ship is in 2020.
  • 6 type 214TN AIP submarines although the program is suffering from major delays. Estimated delivery of the first submarine is in 2020 and then deliveries of one per year for each new submarine until 2025.
  • An ANADOLU class aircraft-helicopter carrier, capable of carrying 6 F-35B (VTOL) fighters (delivery unknown), 4 attack, 8 utility and 2 anti-submarine helicopters.

*see our Report #3: "ENERGY WARS: The security of the Energy Routes in the South East Mediterranean"

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