Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Turkey launched a plan to build its own submarine fleet, with six home-designed and -manufactured vessels scheduled to join its naval fleet by 2040.
Turkey's submarine fleet, the second-largest in NATO, currently consists of 12 vessels based on the design of the German Type-209. Six more are expected from Germany before Turkish submarines can be delivered.
Turkey's shipbuilding industry is also upgrading three French-made submarines for Pakistan.
The ambitious project, formally unveiled on Tuesday, is named MiLDEN, an acronym meaning "Milli Denizalti" or "national submarine," and comes at a time when Turkish defense deals are under scrutiny.
The United States canceled sales and component manufacturing contracts with Turkey after it purchased a Russian-made S-400 air defense system, and Turkey has announced its intent to become more self-sufficient in production of defense equipment. Turkish tanks and frigates have been built, and a railgun project is under development.
Rear Adm. Mehmet Sari of the Turkish Defense Department's shipyards agency said that specialist teams have been assigned to the program, with construction planning the next phase.
The first Turkish submarines will be copies of the German designs, which feature silent cruising capabilities, guided missiles and torpedoes. An indigenous construction consortium, including electronics company Aselan and software specialist Havelsan, is being organized.
The plan has a strategic component. By treaty, foreign submarines are not allowed to pass through Turkey's Bosporus Strait, to and from the Black Sea. It means that Russian submarines in the Black Sea cannot be involved in operations off Syria.
It is unclear if the mission to build its own submarines is connected to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's suggestion on Sept. 4 that Turkey is interested in acquiring nuclear weapons.