The conflict in Syria, which has brought along a re-defining of the boundaries of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and a re-sharing of hydrocarbon reserves in the Mediterranean has made the existing power struggle even more fascinating. With the unfolding of the conflict in Syria, Russia has become a Mediterranean state. All players in the area are preparing for the worse. Russia is currently expanding its Tartus facility and the Hmeimim airbase. The latter was the target of a 13-strong drone attack. Similar assaults, targeting off-shore platforms, may repeat in the future.
The US has restarted air operations against ISIS, also known Daesh. While the various sides are struggling to gain ground in Syria, ongoing hydrocarbon explorations in East Mediterranean put that area more into focus. Israel has redesigned its defense planning and acquisition programs to include gas fields. Cyprus is leveraging the international turmoil into fait accompli to have access to gas reserves while deliberately ignoring the claims of Turkish Cypriots. Unilateral actions by Greek Cypriots are igniting a counter-reaction from Turkey to assert the rights of the Turkish Cypriots. Reciprocating steps by the Turkish side may be taken at anytime. Movement of US Embassy to Jerusalem seems added another article to regional discontents list. Furthermore, Greece seems to be ready to make a new move to reach an agreement with Egypt and Greek Cyprus on an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Israel is planning to take new steps, as it knows that reaching a consensus with Turkey would be in its interest in terms of the size of the EEZ.
A gas pipeline agreement (EASTMED) between Israel, Greek Cypriot and Greece costs three times higher when compared with a possible route via Turkey. Apart from being uneconomical, the agreement also violates the rights of the Turkish Cypriots and is another catalyzer for long-term disagreement and bad blood for both sides.
Any agreement which does not acknowledge the rights of a neighboring nation, namely Turkey and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, will be damaging relations. Iran’s support for the Syrian regime; Israel’s attack on Syria; US withdrawal from the Tehran nuclear deal, obviously with Israel’s lobby, are all perfect recipes for further intricacy in the area.
Although it seems to be a minor problem compared with the situation a year ago, immigration is and will always remain an issue for Mediterranean countries, and navies will have to adapt their structure accordingly.
Like in all disagreements and clashes for more power and distribution of wealth, nations are struggling to find the delicate balance between defense investments and social welfare programs. Here, I’d like to share my notes on how Mediterranean nations are investing in maritime procurement:
From Turkey counterclockwise
Turkey plans to acquire additional Heybeliada-class corvettes, and a fourth unit was launched this past summer for delivery in 2020. Construction has begun on an enlarged 3,000-ton variant of the class, dubbed the Istanbul-class frigate, for service in 2021. At least four air-defense frigates are planned under the future TF-2000 program. Production is under way on Turkey’s German-designed Type 214 submarines, six of which will be built domestically under a 2009 contract. In 2017, first of two new 7,250-ton LSTs was handed over to Turkish Navy. The value of the contract was 370 million euro. The ships can carry 350 persons, 20 MBT and between 24 – 60 vehicles. The closed parking area is 1100 square meters and the open deck parking area is 690 square meters. It was rumored that TCG Sancaktar might be sold to another country but this sale apparently did not materialize.
A domestically built 28,000-ton big-deck amphibious assault ship, based on Spain’s Juan Carlos class, is currently under construction and expected for delivery in 2021. Turkey has expressed interest in acquiring up to 20 F-35Bs for operation from the new ship. It’s not certain how it will affect the total number of F-35s, Turkey going to acquire.
Greece is continuing an upgrade program to return its P-3 Orion maritime-patrol aircraft to operational status. News emerged about leasing 2 FREMM frigates from France and as reverberation, a few voices were heard from Germany opposing the lease project, which was expected . Earlier, Naval Group and Fincantieri made a mouthwatering offer to Canada for FREMMs. The offer cost 20 billion below the estimated budget but it was refused because it did not comply with the bidding requirements, namely the criteria regarding technology-sharing. At the end Greek taxpayer money will be wasted on an imagined Turkish threat, with no value added to the Greek industry. Dear Greek readers should remember that Turkey did not move a finger when the Greek government could not pay salaries or move aircraft and ships due to costs.
Italy’s maritime forces are stretched thin by the ongoing migrant crisis that demands a heavy naval presence off the coast of North Africa and in the Mediterranean. A new large- deck 22,000-ton amphibious assault ship is on order for delivery by 2020 to help with transport and humanitarian assistance duties. Italy plans to acquire a mix of ten general purpose and antisubmarine-configured Carlo Bergamini-class frigates under the FREMM program. All ten warships are expected by the early 2020s.
Construction began on the first 129 mt multipurpose offshore patrol ship. Seven of these modular patrol ships have been ordered in three different configurations, with deliveries set to begin in 2021.
Italy retired its last Atlantic Mk-1 maritime patrol aircraft; four new Alenia Aermacchi P-72As have begun entering service. The navy plans to modify the 27,000-ton aircraft carrier Cavour to carry stealthy F-35Bs during the next few years. F-35B trials are scheduled to begin on the carrier in 2020.
France’s sole aircraft carrier, the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle, began a refit early in 2017 and is due to complete its life extension by late this year. Work includes nuclear refueling, aviation upgrades, and combat systems modernization. The navy is beginning to consider replacement of the carrier by the late 2030s. While the aircraft carrier is out of service, French Rafale M naval fighters flew from Jordan to engage targets in Iraq and Syria. And pilots keep on their training in USA. Meanwhile 4 French antisubmarine variants delivered and two ASW and two AAW versions of Fremm are planned for trough 2018 to 2022. FREMM frigates are also in use in Egypt and Morocco.
Work is under way on six Suffren- class SSNs under the Barracuda program. The first ship expected to enter service by the end of 2018, with all six units planned by 2029. France has been investing in longer-range naval weapons development and has been cooperating with the United Kingdom to design future antiship missiles and other strike weapons.
Spain has begun planning to replace its domestically built Oliver Hazard Perry–class frigates in the mid-2020s with five new frigates under the F-110 program. Spain’s S-80 submarine effort continues to face technical delays and financial challenges. The first of the four submarines is not expected for delivery until 2021, but the AIP system will not be ready and may be added during a future refit.
Tunisia took delivery of the first of 13 coastal radars from the United States and received two US-built 20.2 mt full-cabin patrol boats this past year. Construction also is under way on four larger offshore patrol vessels being built in Romania for delivery by the end of the year.
Algeria took delivery of its second 3,500-ton German-built MEKO A-200 frigate in 2017. Up to two additional units are planned.
Two Tigr-class frigates (Project 20382), an export variant of the Stereguschiy class, are under construction in Russia. Up to four additional units are planned for the future. Algeria is set to receive its first Russian-built Improved Kilo–class (Project 636) submarine in 2018, and a second unit is under construction.
Egypt is the largest in the Middle East and North Africa expanding its presence in the Mediterranean Sea by enlarging bases and piers, and the country has been expanding facilities near Safaga on the Red Sea to help combat piracy. On 22 September, Egypt took delivery of the first 2,600-ton French Gowind 2500-class corvette. Three more Gowind 2500s will be built domestically for delivery by 2020. Egypt received its second German-built Type 209/1400 submarine summer 2017 summer and two additional Type 209s are planned by 2021.
Israel has problems with submarine acquiring process and investigation reached to Prime Minister. Israel navy was the smallest in all services in armed forces but with the importance given to protect natural resources in Eastern Mediterranean Israel Defence Ministry scheduled to procure new naval craft, weapons, and sensors to help protect against a wide range or threats. The C-Dome, a naval variant of the Iron Dome defensive missile system, was declared fully operational. A containerized naval version of the long-range artillery (LoRA) weapon was test-fired. Israel is preparing for delivery of the first of four new 2,000-ton Sa’ar VI-class guided-missile corvettes from Germany in 2019. Israel also is working to modernize its Sa’ar IV guided-missile patrol craft. The navy will receive its sixth Dolphin-class submarine from Germany in 2019, representing the third submarine of the class modified with AIP capabilities. Additional AIP-modified subs are planned for the future.