In an additional move that is sure to further inflame tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey announced that it has designed and begun production of its first warship.

The boat, called the TCG Heybeliada, is a corvette class cruiser that is small, lightly armed and highly maneuverable.  Corvettes can perform a wide range of tasks including reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare, anti-aircraft defense, and patrolling and target detection.  The Turkish program – called MILGEM - aims to produce 12 such boats and eventually export the boats to other countries.

The MILGEM program was begun in 2004 and aims to reduce Turkish dependence on foreign military suppliers.  The TCG Heybeliada was officially begun in 2008 and was completed a few weeks ago. The boat is about 330 feet in length, has one hull and displaces 2,300 tons of water.  The boat also can carry a single helicopter.  The Heybeliada was built by a conglomerate of 50 different local Turkish companies that supplied domestically produced parts.  The MILGEM program has also completed a second, nearly identical boat called the Buyukada and will be embarking on a project to build larger boats in the carrier and frigate classes within the next few years.

The announcement, made yesterday, comes in the face of the dispute between Turkey and Israel over the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, which Turkey blames Israel for.  As a result of that incident and the Israeli refusal to apologize for its reaction to terrorism, Turkey expelled most of the Israeli embassy and canceled all ties with Israel.   It also follows the announcement made by Cyprus a few weeks ago that it intends to start drilling for oil via a US corporation, a move that has enraged the Turkish government as they have claimed the oil for themselves.  Turkey is currently occupying northern Cyprus has threatened military intervention if Cyprus proceeds.

According to local Turkish newspapers, Turkey intends to use the boat at sea for patrolling purposes and it will be inaugurated Tuesday at a ceremony attended by important officials in the government, such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz and President Abdullah Gul.