Military vessels and naval production in the Eastern Mediterranean

This week EU foreign ministers will discuss the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean at an informal meeting in Berlin, while Turkey and Greece flex their muscles and sent their fleets to sea. According to the Turkish president Erdogan to “act with more determination concerning the protection of its rights, and (of) laws in the region.” According to an article in the Jeruzalem Post, Ankara’s want to stoke crises with Europe as well as also in Libya, Iraq and Syria. Greece’s navy and air force will conduct military exercises beginning Tuesday in the eastern Mediterranean near a contested area where Turkey is prospecting for oil and gas. Complicating the tensions are the relations with Egypt and Libya on the Southern shores of the Mediterranean.

Both Greece and Turkey are NATO countries. They share the same arms suppliers. Submarines of both Greece and Turkey come from HDW in Germany. Major surface vessels of Greece come from KMS de Schelde in Flushing (currently Damen) and Blohm & Voss. Turkish surface vessels are also from B&V. Turkey also has some second hand frigates from the US and some locally designed corvettes. And also a fleet of well armed Fast Attack Craft of German Lürssen design. No wonder Germany seems reluctant to impose sanctions on Turkey. Italian sold naval 76mm guns to both countries. The Netherlands sold combat systems to both countries. In general the Netherlands is restrictive on arms exports, but not when it comes to naval equipment, a policy shared by Germany recently in case of Turkey.

While Greece is predominantly depending on arms imports, Turkey is creating its own defence industry able to produce a growing range of arms at home (although still with foreign help). This is resulting from a NATO policy of supporting weaker members at the Southern flank, a policy which fell on fertile ground in Turkey. Joint Ventures has been a method to create a stronger Turkish defence industry. One of them was Yaltes, which was established in November 2002 as a Joint Venture between Turkish Yalcin Group and Thales Nederland B.V. The company is the only production facilities of three Thales companies fully owned by Thales in Turkey (list until December 31, 2018). Yaltes locally provides technologies, system integration solutions and system support in the field naval warfare management systems and systems.

According to the Turkish company Thales International Western countries B.V. Took over all shares in September 2011 with current shareholding structure Thales International Western Countries B.V. 60% and Thales Nederland B.V. 40%. Both mentioned Thales branches are located in the Netherlands, Thales Nederland in Hengelo (East, near German border) and Thales International Western Countries in Delft (West, near North Sea). The Dutch government however reported that Thales Netherlands has sold its shares in the Turkish military technology producer in the summer of 2019. It seems to be a formality not yet on the webpage of the Ankara based company. It happened shortly before the EU agreed to “commit to strong national positions regarding their arms export policy to Turkey.”

Unclear is if the shares of Thales ‘Western Countries’ are also sold or still being held in possession of a Dutch juridical entity under control of Thales France directors. Western Countries is one of the many Dutch Thales establishments in the Netherlands. Officially it involved in activities such as bookkeeping and trade agency in machinery, technological tools, ships and planes. But according to the Chamber of Commerce the company has no personnel, while owning 100% of Thales International Europe B.V., an entity also without personnel and under the same directors. The vague juridical structure has been established for tax or organisational reasons, but at least it is an school example on intransperncy. It is unknown where Yaltes is now embedded in the Thales concern.

Another Dutch contribution to the Turkish naval industry is a recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between shipyard Damen and Askeri Fabrika ve Tersane İşletme (ASFAT) to cooperate on the production of naval vessels. The MoU was signed during the International Defence Industry Fair (IDEF) arms fair in Istanbul spring 2019. AFSAT was established to enhance the use of 27 military factories and three naval shipyards for Turkey’s Ministry of Defence. Boran Bekbulat of Damen said, “There is a natural synergy to be found between Damen and ASFAT. Both parties are seeking to provide innovative answers to the requirements of clients around the world. By combining our strengths in this manner we will be able to ensure the optimisation of processes and develop a wider reach of our services, all the better for serving the needs of our customers and maximising capabilities.” Turkey sold four of its corvette to Pakistan. Damen sold Karachi two Yarmook-class corvettes which will be armed – among others – with Turkish Aselsan STAMP 12.7 mm guns. Is this the innovation for clients abroad? It is at least new on a market so far dominated by other suppliers (Oto Melara, Bofors, Oerlikon).

The shipbuilder from the Netherlands also sold the Turkish Coast Guard also 15 SAR 1906 search and rescue boats. They will be paid for by the European Union as part of its response to the ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. The Head of the EU delegation in Turkey, Christian Berger said: “The strenuous efforts by the Turkish Coast Guard have been crucial in saving human lives in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean. The EU is proud to be able to contribute to the efforts of the Turkish Coast Guard through these first two state-of-the-art search and rescue vessels delivered today.” But Mr. Berger is missing something. For Turkey as well as for Greece, refugees are a pawn in their power struggle. Coast Guards sometimes play a horrendous part in this. Turkish coastguard ‘attacks boat packed with migrants’ as The Independent reported a year before the EU ceremony. And this was not the only time. And the Greeks do the same. The struggle in the Eastern Mediterranean, in which navy ships from Germany and the Netherlands play a central role, is taking place on the same same stage where the most vulnerable are so far hit the hardest.

Martin Broek 08/2020

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