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Monthly Defense News Recap – May 2022

This week’s Quwa Premium article is a recap of some defence news items from around the world. Besides a basic overview of the news, this article also offers short-form analysis of each issue.

Turkey Launches Second Reis-Class Submarine for Sea Trials

On 23 May 2022, Turkey’s Gölcük Naval Shipyard launched the Turkish Navy’s second Reis-class (i.e., Type 214TR) submarine – TCG Hizir Reis – for sea trials. The Gölcük Naval Shipyard also celebrated starting the production work of the sixth and final Reis-class submarine, the TCG Selman Reis.

The Reis-class submarine program is the result of a 2009 contract between Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) and the German contractor ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS). Under the deal, which was reportedly valued at € 2.060 billion at the time of signing, Turkey would manufacture six customized Type 214 submarines domestically. The first of these boats, the TCG Piri Reis, is slated to join the Turkish Navy fleet in 2022. Turkey’s expecting to deliver the sixth and final ship by 2027.

The Type 214TR will be equipped with a fuel cell-based air-independent propulsion (AIP) system. The Reis-class submarine has a length of 68.35 m, a diameter of 6.3 m, displacement of 1,850 tons, and a capacity to support a crew of 40. It is capable of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-ship warfare (AShW) and long-range land attack capabilities. Turkey confirmed that it will configure the Reis-class submarine with locally-designed and built munitions, such as the Atmaca anti-ship missile (AShM) and Akya ASW torpedo.

Turkey also moved to localize many of the Type 214TR’s key subsystems, such as sensors, electronics, and weapon systems. Not only are Turkish contractors like Aselsan, Meteksan, and Havelsan are supplying key subsystems for the Reis-class program, but they are also exporting their solutions. The Pakistan Navy’s upgraded Agosta 90B submarines, for example, are using a number of Aselsan and Havelsan subsystems. Turkey also marketed the Reis-class for export to other countries, notably Indonesia.

Traditionally, the Turkish Navy is a user of German-origin submarines, such as the Type 209-series and the forthcoming Type 214TR. However, upon the completion of the Type 214TR, Turkey will actively transition to manufacturing indigenous submarine designs. The flagship project of this initiative is the MILDEN.

Turkey Aims to Start Building its MILDEN Submarine in 2025

During the launching ceremony of the TCG Hizir Reis, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Turkey will start constructing its indigenous submarine design, MILDEN, in 2025 at Gölcük.

The MILDEN (Milli Denizalti or National Submarine) is the flagship program of Turkey’s efforts to produce its series of indigenous submarines. In addition to the MILDEN, Turkey is also working on its own miniature diesel-electric submarine (SSK) – i.e., the STM500 – and a larger, export-oriented design known as TS1700.

For the MILDEN, Erdoğan emphasized that Turkey will work towards developing its own AIP system (using fuel cells), electric motors, batteries, sonars, and other key inputs. Through the Reis-class program, Turkey had already built the capacity to indigenously manufacture the submarine hull.

Turkey is certainly being ambitious with regards to the MILDEN’s scope. There is no doubt that developing one’s own propulsion stack (i.e., motors) and power-generation and management systems (e.g., fuel cells) is a difficult process. Granted, the Turkish government would not have announced these goals without at least some initial work from the domestic industry. However, for Turkey, developing and producing these critical inputs would catapult it into exclusive territory. Today, there are very few countries that can build a conventional submarine from end-to-end. Even for its export-centric designs, China had originally relied on the Germans to supply the engines for its S20/S26-series.

However, for Turkey, gaining the ability to fully design and build its own submarines also unlocks immense commercial potential. In fact, Turkey is already marketing its domestic designs to potential foreign users, such as Pakistan and others. Having run into trouble re-exporting the T129 (due to its LHTEC engine), the Turks would want to avoid outside blockers from derailing potential multi-billion-dollar contracts.

Turkey Readies Indigenous Turboshaft Engine for Test Flight

Mahmut Faruk Akşit, the Chairman and General Manager of Tusaş Engine Industries (TEI), announced that Turkey’s first indigenous turboshaft engine, the TS1400, is becoming ready for its maiden test flight. The prototype TS1400 will have an output of 1,570 shp, which is 100 shp higher than the original requirement.

TEI will test the TS1400 from the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T-625 Gökbey utility helicopter, which is also Turkey’s first indigenous helicopter design.

Turkey’s SSB initiated the TS1400 program in February 2017. Under the original roadmap, TEI was aiming to develop the TS1400 in eight years. The initial development phase was to finish in 2019. From that point, TEI was to manufacture the prototype engine, and, in turn, flight test it by 2023. TEI tested the TS1400’s “core” in June 2020. Based on Akşit statements, it seems that the TS1400 program is on schedule.

From a long-term standpoint, the TS1400 is merely the first phase of Turkey’s engine development goals.

By leveraging the core design of the TS1400, TEI is aiming to develop more powerful engines to drive TAI’s larger helicopter designs, especially the forthcoming T-929 ATAK-2 heavy attack helicopter. For reference, the ATAK-2 could require a turboshaft engine with an output of 2,500 shp to 3,000 shp.

If Turkey succeeds, it would be among a handful of countries capable of manufacturing turboshaft engines for lightweight, medium-weight, and heavy-weight helicopters. However, this outcome is unlikely to come to fruition until at least the early-to-mid 2030s, if not later.

In terms of the TS1400 itself, it will be interesting to see if TEI can qualify the engine for military use. If it can, then TEI would gain a domestic alternative powerplant for use on the T129 ATAK. TAI had sought to sell 30 T129s to the Pakistan Army, but it could not follow-through with the sale because it was not able to secure re-export licenses from the U.S. for the T129’s engine, the LHTEC CTS800. This issue appears to be specific to Pakistan (likely a result of another dispute between Islamabad and Washington).

If TEI can develop an adept military-grade version of the TS1400, TAI may be able to resurrect the prospect of selling the T129 to the Pakistan Army. The latter had signed the original contract under an installment-based financing program offered by the Turkish government. Thus, Pakistan still likely has an incentive to re-activate that financing program if it can secure the T129. However, TEI and TAI would still need to test the TS1400 in Pakistan’s hot-and-high conditions to secure such a sale.

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