The 10-year dream of the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT) became a reality when Turkey’s first intelligence ship was commissioned on Friday. TCG Ufuk (A-591), an Ada-class corvette developed as part of a national warship program, has officially joined the Turkish Naval Forces; however, the vessel will in fact be used by MİT for gathering intelligence.
The idea of Turkish intelligence having its own ship first emerged after a Turkish RF-4E jet was shot down in Syria in 2012. It was leaked to the press at the time that the low-flying jet was doing reconnaissance missions in Syrian airspace at the request of MİT and was tasked with detecting radars and collecting information about Syrian air defense systems produced by Russia, despite the danger involved. After the failure of the operation, the spy agency convinced the government that it was necessary to have an advanced vessel to gather intelligence from the seas in order to avoid such dangerous operations. Some claim the incident was a false flag designed to create a pretext for Turkey to wage war on Syria and to pull NATO allies into Syria to force a regime change.
Nordic Monitor has learned that Turkey’s land-based interception devices cannot reach some areas in the Aegean, particularly between the Greek Islands. MİT is currently tracking ships passing through the Turkish straits with devices deployed on both sides of the waterways.
Unlike other intelligence ships in the region that are used for military purposes, Ufuk will be solely used by the spy agency. In 2012 Turkey’s highest-capacity intelligence and interception base, the General Staff Electronic Systems Command (GES), which was commissioned to intercept and analyze all kinds of communication and radar signals and to produce signal intelligence, was transferred from the Turkish Armed Forces to MİT as a result of efforts by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to transfer the military’s wiretapping and monitoring capability to civilians. Distrusting the military, the government thought GES was not only eavesdropping on Turkey’s adversaries but also tracking members of the government. GES’s name was changed to the Signal Intelligence Directorate (SIB) following its transfer. Military experts claim that the complete transfer of signal intelligence to MIT has weakened Turkey’s fight against terrorism, also pointing to the inevitable strengthening of MİT within the security bureaucracy.
Noting that MİT made significant contributions to national security with its services in the fight against terrorism and foreign intelligence, President Erdoğan said during a ceremony on Friday, when the ship was commissioned, that the organization, which changed the course of the game in favor of Turkey with tactical intelligence obtained from the field and the operations it has carried out, has also achieved success in cyber security.
“Our intelligence ship, which we are putting into service, is a new and important opportunity for our organization. I believe our power will increase on the seas as well as on land and in the air, thanks to this ship, which has modern equipment that very few intelligence agencies in the world have,” Erdoğan added.
Erdoğan stated that the next goal of the organization is to take its place in space through satellite intelligence. Actually, Turkey has had an intelligence satellite in space since 2016, Göktürk-1, which was designed for the needs of the Turkish Armed Forces. Erdoğan was most likely referring to new satellite projects for MİT.
STM Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik was the main contractor for TCG Ufuk, officially identified as a test and training ship, which was initiated by the Presidency of the Defense Industry (SSB) in 2016. The construction of the ship began the following year. Due to the pandemic, the official commissioning date was changed several times.
With an overall length of 99.5 meters, a maximum width of 14.4 meters, a 110-person capacity, 2,400 tons of displacement and 3.6 meters of draft, a 10-ton helicopter will be able to land on the Ufuk. The Ufuk can sail on the open seas for 45 days without interruption in severe climatic and marine conditions.
One hundred ninety-four local companies contributed to the project, and the SSB claims 70 percent of the project was realized with domestic facilities and equipment. The local companies that took part in the production of TGC Ufuk include:
– Istanbul Naval Shipyard (production site)
-ASELSAN (design, production and integration of mission systems on the ship: radar, communication, ship navigation)
-HAVELSAN (ADVENT combat management system, ship data distribution system, ship integrated information system, CCTV system, message operating system)
-İŞBİR (onboard generators)
-Anel (design, supply, production and integration of ship electrical system infrastructure)
-YALTES (design and production of integrated platform control and monitoring system and consoles onboard)
Turkey was previously using the TCG Çandarlı for intelligence gathering, but the vessel was found to be too small and not adequately technologically advanced by the experts. Ufuk is a corvette tasked with gathering information, intercepting signals and communications rather than an electronic warfare ship. Lacking the weapons that warships carry, it will be equipped with light weapons to protect itself from minor risks. When sailing on the high seas, she is expected to be escorted by a warship.
In addition to Turkey, France, Spain, Israel and France have domestically produced intelligence ships in the Mediterranean.
France sent its intelligence ship Dupuy-de-Lôme to the straits and the Black Sea during a 2020 crisis between the EU and Turkey resulting from Turkey’s unilateral natural gas drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, drawing Turkey’s ire. Turkey now has an intelligence ship that it can send into international waters off the coast of France. Erdoğan, who often likes to confront Macron, may not hesitate to use Ufuk as a tool in international politics to send a message to his grassroots before the upcoming elections. It would not be a surprise if it is also used to cause a crisis with Greece for the same domestic purpose.
Stories about Ufuk expectedly found wide coverage in the media close to the government. The state-run Anadolu news agency even published a report about the caracal, a medium-sized wildcat that is Ufuk’s mascot, interviewing academics about the caracal, whose hearing ability is extraordinarily advanced, and claiming it was the right symbol for Ufuk.