CDR (ret.) Eyal Pinko, Ph.D.
Turkey’s Maritime Strategy Ambitions: The Blue Homeland Doctrine (Mavi Vatan)
Updated: Feb 11, 2021
At the end of 2019, Turkey signed an agreement with Libya, which gave Turkey the control of Libya’s maritime territory and established in practice a maritime “corridor” in the eastern Mediterranean.
Controlling the maritime territory will let Turkey control vessel movement, the natural gas reservoirs, and the gas pipes in the area. For example, the pipes need to lay down from Israel to Greece and Italy.
The agreement caused the dissatisfaction of the countries Greece, Egypt, Cyprus, Israel, and France, as well as the resentment of the UN, which didn’t approve the agreement.
In February 2020, Libya’s National Army (LNA) announced it bombed a Turkish merchant ship in Tripoli port. The merchant ship carried weapons onboard for the government in Libya, which is supported by the UN and Turkey.
An overall and strategic view on the sequence of events to which Turkey is involved lately sheds light on its efforts to become a regional maritime power.
Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, such as its latest actions in Syria, the Red Sea, and other places in the world, are a part of a complex and bigger plan, which was designed by Turkey to establish maritime control in its surrounding seas.
The plan will allow Turkey’s economic and energetic independence and growth.
The Turkish plan, known as “The Blue Homeland Doctrine” (Mavi Vatan), was announced by the Turkish Admiral Cem Gurdeniz in 2006. (The Admiral served in the Turkish Navy until 2012. Has extensive operational and command experience. In his last role serves as the Head of Division of Strategy and Planning in the Turkish Navy).
The Blue Homeland Doctrine
The Blue Homeland doctrine’s goal, which was announced by the Turkish Admiral, under the auspices of the government, is to achieve Turkey’s control and consolidation in the three seas surrounding it, to impart her regional and international influence and allow it energy sources, which will support its economic and demographic growth without dependence in other countries.
Beyond the Blue homeland doctrine’s declared goals, Turkey’s hidden goal is the cancelation of the effects of the treaty of Lausanne, which was forced on the Turks in 1923.
This treaty, which was forced Turkey after the first world war and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, narrowed its steps and made it be under western auspices during almost the 100 years that had passed since it was signed.
Until the 2000s, Turkey enjoyed mostly western and American auspices, which allowed its sovereignty and to be secure from the communist threat.
With the fall of the Communist bloc, Russia’s weakening, and simultaneously with Turkey’s economic and demographic growth (81 million citizens currently with growth prognosis of 90 million citizens in 2030), Turkey’s energy needs have risen – energy is the growth driver for Turkey’s economy.
Turkey’s energy sources based only upon external suppliers. Turkey’s primary energy suppliers are Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Libya. From those countries, Turkey imported in 2018 over a million barrels of oil a day and more than 51 billion cubic meters of gas.
The basing on foreign energy resources makes Turkey, on the one hand, to be more combative and militarily active to ensure the continuance of energy supply (for instance, in northern Syria, northern Iraq, Libya, and the Horn of Africa).
On the other hand, Turkey has a political commitment to these countries (Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Libya), even if it doesn’t desire that.
For example: The fighting in northern Syria, the tension and the delicate coordination in front of the Russians illustrate Turkey’s commitment to Russia, even if it’s against its political, military, and economic interests. Therefore, the likelihood of a military campaign between Russia and Turkey (in general and in Syria in particular) is very low.
The Turkish understanding of the need for energetic independence brought it to the formulation of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine, which its purpose, as mentioned, is control of energy sources and creating freedom in this field.
The “Blue Homeland” doctrine set targets to Turkish control in two range envelopes.
The first envelope includes the three seas which are surrounding Turkey – the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea, and the Black Sea.
The second envelope and the strategic one, includes the Red Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Arabian Sea, including the Persian Gulf.
The Turkish dominance and the implementation of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine manifest itself in Turkish maritime dominance in these areas, including control over oil and gas reservoirs.
Another aspect of establishing dominance is Turkey’s political support of the region’s countries, the establishment of military bases, and training of military forces which will stand by its side.
Turkey established military and naval bases in Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Qatar, including the training of soldiers, a supply of weapons, ammunition, and other military support.
Lately, it was even published that Turkey sent to Libya about 2,000 mercenaries from Syria and military advisers, who work in its name to defend and preserve the Libyan government.
The naval power force build-up
The Turkish navy operates regularly across the Mediterranean Sea, in the Black Sea (with an emphasis in front of Bulgaria) and in the Aegean Sea, next to the eastern chain of islands of Greece.
The Turkish navy had started to operate also in the Red Sea, in Bab El-Mandeb straits, in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, and even operate in cooperation with Pakistan. The cooperation with Pakistan is based upon a strategic perspective in which it will be used by Turkey to develop a permanent presence in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Gulf.
Turkey understands that its terrestrial topography, which is covered by mountains, is a defensive advantage and secure from ground attacks.
Turkey’s maritime boundary, which extends over three seas, is its weak boundary on the one hand and the other, is the one that constitutes an opportunity to its energy needs and economic independence and expansion.
This understanding, which lies well in the roots of the Ottoman history, brought Erdoğan a short time after his rise to rule, to begin in empowerment and a naval force build-up program, called Milgem.
This program is prosperous of financing and means, also based on the understanding that the key to Turkey’s force build-up and its establishment as a regional and international power, is an independent and technological development of the local Turkish industry.
The Turkish defense industry is focusing on the development and production of vessels, aircrafts, and advanced weapon systems for the military in general and the navy in particular.
This and more, the Turkish ambition is to become a world-leading arms exporter, which will allow it to influence countries and policies, as occurs in the American, Chinese and Russian models.
Withing the Milgem project, four corvettes have been developed and built for anti-submarine warfare, one intelligence-gathering corvette, four surface warfare frigates, and four frigates for anti-aircraft warfare. Within the project, four modern corvettes for the Pakistani navy are being built during the last years.
During the last few years, 33 landing crafts were built for the Turkish navy, which are designed to land infantry troops and armored vehicles on enemy shores. Development of maritime flanking ability and the landing on beaches by Turkey allow it to operate against Greece’s eastern islands and take control of them during a campaign.
In addition, Turkey builds independently in its local shipyards six German submarines of the U-214 model, under the approval and help from the German HDW shipyards.
The six Turkish submarines (includes AIP capabilities, which allow the submarines a long endurance under the water) are expected to be operational between the years 2021-2027 and join the fleet of 10 more submarines, which Turkey has long been operating.
The highlight of the Turkish naval force build-up is building the aircraft carrier, from which is expected that F-35 aircrafts will be operated.
The aircraft carrier, which is supposed to be operational during 2021, develops a significant operational capability for Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, with emphasis on its operational activity in Libya, Sudan, and additional countries in the region.
Turkey is considering building a second aircraft carrier. There is no doubt that operating the aircraft carrier develops a crucial deterrence capability for Turkey.
During the next few years, the Turkish navy is expected to operate 16 reconnaissance airplanes, about 40 helicopters, 16 submarines (including the six new submarines), 21 frigates, 18 corvettes, 35 missile boats, 32 mine-sweepers, a mother ship for long-range logistics and supply, and dozens more of general vessels.
In the Turkish navy serving about 260,000 soldiers, including commando units and marine forces, who are trained regularly by the USA and are equipped with the advanced anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles and weapons for land combat.
These forces accumulated a vast operational experience in the campaign in Syria, and Libya, which is expected to help them improve their operational capability and combat doctrine.
The vision of the “Blue Homeland” that has been in practice in recent years represents not only Erdogan, the Turkish leader, but represents a Turkish nationalist aspiration, which calls for Turkey to go back and influence politically and economically on the region which was given through the Ottoman empire.
Political and economic considerations drive the “Blue Homeland” vision that its essence is to turn Turkey independent in the economic and energetic aspects.
Turkey’s energetic independence is depending on its ability to operate and control the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf.
The “Blue Homeland” doctrine brought to a significant Turkish naval force build-up that includes not only procurement dozens of new vessels and aircrafts, but also developing domestic capabilities and technologies for building vessels, aircrafts, sensors, and weapon systems.
The force build-up of the Turkish force will bring it in the coming years to operating a naval power of over 140 vessels (including submarines), over 60 aircrafts (including fighter jets), and thousands of marines.
The force build-up steps of the Turkish navy are supported by additional political and military steps such as building military bases, training fighting units and supplying combat gear in distant countries like Libya, Sudan, Qatar, Somalia, and Pakistan.
At the beginning of March 2019, the Turkish navy performed the largest combat exercise since its establishment. The training which was called “The Blue Homeland”, practiced and validated the Turkish doctrine from 2006 and gave a formal “stamp” to its military capabilities, including surface and underwater warfare, land-attack capabilities and landing capabilities.
Turkish naval ambitions came into reality 13 years after they were announced.
In a Turkish navy ceremony held in September 2019, Erdogan and commander of the navy were photographed against the background of the “Blue Homeland” picture and thereby expressed the political validity of the plan.
Erdogan realizes that Israel, Russia, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Cyprus don’t support his political-economic ambitions, and therefore operate to a slow and measured application of the doctrine so that it won’t be seen as threatening on the regional stability.
But regionally, the implementation of the Turkish doctrine will ensure Turkey’s energetic independence and will allow it to be a maritime, economic and political power, which controls the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, and the Red Sea.