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Turkish Naval Weapons Are Rapidly Advancing

July 14, 2020

Via SSB.

On July 1 the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSB) and local manufacturer Roketsan successfully tested the ATMACA anti-ship missile from a stationary launcher on a coastal site. The SSB later promoted the event as a milestone where the ATMACA traveled a distance of more than 200 kilometers before hitting a mock target at sea. Roketsan, which is responsible for all domestically made precision weapons, promotes the ATMACA as a multi-platform weapon suited for small and large naval vessels. Because of its geography and role within the NATO alliance Turkey has little need for a surface fleet other than territorial defense. But the current programs for naval modernization suggest the branch has bigger goals in the decade to come.

As a matter of perspective the ATMACA’s contribution to Turkey’s military-industrial sector is substantial. Among the countries of the Middle East only Israel and Iran have managed to localize producing anti-ship missiles while others have neglected these weapons or settled on importing from abroad. As a longstanding NATO ally Turkey’s military industries are close to matching those of France and Italy in output and sophistication although a homegrown air defense system remains an arduous task and can’t be accomplished without a joint venture. Still, in light of Roketsan’s success with surface-to-surface and air-launched munitions the ATMACA promises to hasten the Turkish armed forces’ aspirations for better long-range strike weaponry.

But there are reasons to be concerned about the ATMACA’s broad adoption by the Turkish navy and the missile’s further improvement. Since Ankara is often at odds with its own allies and is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy that involves supporting its chosen factions in ongoing regional disputes (see Cyprus, Libya, Qatar, and Syria) the ATMACA presents a conundrum for those governments opposed to Turkey. Since most Turkish military products are tailored for exports the transfer of ATMACA missiles to a willing client may upset regional security in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, where Turkey has cultivated embattled factions and governments. Given its portable dimensions and range the ATMACA functions well as an anti-access weapon system for deterring aggressive neighbors in disputed waters.

For its naval build up Turkey is pursuing three crucial projects that should give it an edge over its immediate neighbors in the Mediterranean. Foremost is an amphibious assault ship or LHD capable of transporting 1,000 marines and their equipment to a distant theater. This effort is being helped along by Spain’s Navantia whose Juan Carlos-class LHD is the basis for Turkey’s expeditionary ambitions. Other SSB naval projects of note are the new generation of Ada-class or Milgem corvettes and at least four submarines with air-independent propulsion. From 2008 until 2019 the Turkish navy received four 2,400 ton Milgem corvettes and these are armed with ATMACA anti-ship missiles for surface warfare.

Other Turkish companies such as Aselsan have made remarkable strides in manufacturing various naval subsystems. In 2017 the company displayed a turret for an electromagnetic cannon at an arms show; this rail gun was designed for mounting on warships. But the Tufan’s readiness for service is questionable since many experiments with electromagnetic weapons depend on a connected power source that most ships can’t accommodate. Whether or not its homegrown electromagnetic naval armaments succeed, Turkey’s military industries have matured at a rapid pace and now boast a deepening technological grasp its neighbors must envy.

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