ANKARA – May 13, 2019 – Turkey’s military launched a major naval exercise on Monday, May 13 at a time of rising tensions over its plans to explore for gas off the coast of Cyprus. The exercises, featuring 131 vessels, 57 planes and 33 helicopters, began early on Monday, a Turkish defense ministry official confirmed to AFP.
Exercise ‘Denizkurdu’, or Sea Wolf, is set to last until May 25 and take place across the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black seas. Turkish media said the exercise was the country’s largest ever, with the Turkish Naval Forces practicing scenarios “similar to crisis-tension situations and wartime.”
The exercises will test weapons systems including the high-speed unmanned aerial vehicle Simsek and anti-surface defense boat Albatros, along with “high-level submarines, frigates, naval artillery, armed UAVs” and search-and-rescue units, TRT World reported.
The drills follow Turkey’s announcement in May that it would carry out exploratory drilling off Cyprus up to September. The European Union has said that this will encroach on Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, while the United States described the move as “highly provocative.”
The international community does not recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, proclaimed after troops occupied the top third of the island in 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek military junta.
The discovery of huge gas reserves in the Mediterranean has fueled a race to tap the underwater resources. Turkey considers the area to be part of its continental shelf and granted exploration licences to Turkish Petroleum in 2009 and 2012. The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, which rules the rest of the island, has signed its own exploration deals with energy giants Eni, Total and ExxonMobil.
Speaking on Sunday, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar insisted Turkey would take all necessary measures to “protect its rights in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, and in Cyprus.”
The purpose of the exercise, according to Turkish authorities, is to improve the coordination of joint actions of flotillas during crises. Also within the framework of the exercise, it is planned to work out the actions of the Navy in the event of a military conflict, and to strike at the facilities of the conditional enemy on land and at sea. In addition, the effectiveness of shipborne air defense systems will be tested.
Submarines, ships and aircraft will coordinate strikes on objects of the conditional enemy. In the arsenal of aircraft and ships there are Turkish-made ammunition, including UMTAS and L-UMTAS missiles with a laser-guided system, the Anatolian Agency notes.
Also during the exercises, the landing of the landing force, the testing of the evacuation of the wounded soldiers from the enemy’s territory are planned.
The exercises from the Turkish frigate Gelibolu are coordinated by Admiral of the Turkish Navy Erdzhument Tatlyoglu . Frigates, submarines and minesweepers are involved in the exercise phase in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.