by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Turkey, a NATO country, is eagerly waiting for the delivery of its first amphibious assault ship which doubles as a light aircraft carrier, hoping it could boost the country's military capabilities in the region.
"The amphibious ship TGC Anadolu is expected to be finished in 2019 and the navy will accept the operational delivery in 2021," Ozgur Eksi, editor-in-chief of the C4Defence.com, website of a Turkish monthly defense magazine, told Xinhua.
It will considerably increase the navy's capability with a multirole naval-air platform, Eksi said.
The ship, 232 meters in length, 32 meters in width and 55 meters in height, is reportedly to operate in two different configurations: light carrier and amphibious assault.
The construction of the vessel began in 2016. It is designed to meet the various needs and requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces, such as sustaining long-endurance, long-distance military combat or humanitarian relief operations, while acting as a command center and flagship for the Turkish navy.
"It will be the biggest-ever ship of the Turkish navy which would transport helicopters and also F-35B Joint Strike Fighter airplanes, which can land vertically," explained Eksi.
The ship can also be used for humanitarian assistance or disaster relief capabilities, the military affairs expert added.
Anadolu is the fourth ship of the Juan Carlos design. The Spanish shipbuilding firm Navantia won the construction contract through a joint bid with the Turkish firm Sedef Shipbuilding Inc. Navantia supplied the core of the design and the construction expertise while Sedef undertook the building of the ship in Turkey.
The project of TGC Anadolu, valued at around 1.3 billion U.S. dollars, will bring one of the most important ships that Turkey ever operated in a move to strengthen the country's naval command, according to experts.
"The Turkish navy is transforming into a blue-water asset with growing power projection capabilities," said Can Kasapoglu, an analyst at the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), in an article published in the pro-government daily Yeni Safak.
Turkey just held its largest naval drill in history between Feb. 27 and March 2, in an impressive show of force amid territorial tensions with neighboring Greece.
Dubbed "Blue Homeland 2019," the drill involved no fewer than 103 ships, which spanned three seas surrounding Turkey, the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean.
In the exercise, many of Turkey's newest domestically built warships were displayed, along with the very first use of high-tech domestically produced drones.
The most prominent message conveyed by the exercise is that "there can not be any action in eastern Mediterranean without Turkey," said Serhat Guven, a maritime expert and international relations professor.
"It's a show of force to express Turkey's military presence and to convey the message that no deal can be made in this region (over hydrocarbon reserves) that undermines Ankara's interests," said Guven from Istanbul's Kadir Has University.
Turkey has a decades-long dispute with Greece over territorial waters in the Aegean and the two NATO allies were on the brink of a military conflict in 1996. Energy exploration in Cypriot territorial waters is also a new point of serious contention.
In the last decade, the Turkish shipbuilding industry has made significant progress in the area of military construction. In July 2018, Ankara won a multimillion-dollar tender to supply four corvettes to Pakistan's navy.
However, it won't be a easy task for the Turkish navy to equip the TGC Anadolu with F-35Bs considering the ongoing political conflict between Ankara and Washington.
As the NATO leader, the United States has blocked its planned sale of 100 F-35 fighters to Turkey in an apparent attempt to punish Turkey's insistence to purchase the Russian S-400 defense systems.