Friday 3 December 2021

Maritime Success: Nigeria Orders Turkish OPV 76s

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

It's not only Turkish drones that have found export success on the international market. Other segments of Turkey's arms industry are also subject to critical acclaim on the world stage. Sometimes this includes systems that for their less glamorous (but nonetheless highly important) roles receive little attention by international analysts, as is the case with the recent purchase of MEMATT mine-clearance vehicles by Burkina Faso and Togo. [1] [2] Other platforms receive more attention, as was recently the case with Nigeria's acquisition of two 76m offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) from Turkey's Dearsan Shipyard.
The purchase of the two OPVs is a notable success for Dearsan Shipyard considering the stiff competition in today's wide market. The Nigerian Navy currently operates a sizeable fleet of OPVs acquired from countries like China, the United States, Israel and Singapore. For its most recent OPV requirement Nigeria is believed to looked at designs from shipyards in China, the Netherlands and Israel before ultimately settling on the OPV 76 design by Dearsan Shipyard as part of its 2021-2030 fleet-renewal plan.

Both ships are to be constructed by Dearsan Shipyard (in a joint venture with Gülhan Shipyard) in Istanbul and are scheduled for delivery to the Nigerian Navy within 37 months. [3] The ships will be outfitted with mostly Turkish-designed and produced sensors and weapon systems. The CEO of Dearsan further revealed that the deal also includes the transfer of technology and expertise to Nigeria. [3] The Nigerian Navy is already proficient in the design and construction of small patrol boats, and a technology transfer from Dearsan could see it undertake larger naval construction projects in the future. [4]

Dearsan Shipyard itself has over time become the main supplier of the Turkmenistan Navy and State Border Service. To date, Dearsan Shipyard has delivered one Deniz Han corvette, ten NTPB patrol boats, six FAC 33s, ten FIB 15 fast intervention boats, a 27-meter landing craft, one HSV 41 hydrographic survey ship, a catamaran for personnel transport and two tugs to Turkmenistan. [5] The country's naval build-up has meanwhile transformed Turkmenistan into the strongest naval power in the Caspian Sea, not in the least through the efforts of Dearsan Shipyard. [5]

Admiral Awwal Gambo shakes hands with Dearsan Shipyard CEO Murat Gordi. Note the model of the SH-60 Seahawk on the OPV 76. In reality the helicopter deck will likely be used by AW109s, several of which are operated by the Nigerian Navy.

The OPV 76 was designed to carry out various missions at the lower end of the spectrum of violence. The design measures 78.6 meters in length and is powered by four MAN 18VP185 diesel engines, enabling the ship to build up speeds of up to 28 knots. [6] At a slightly slower speed the OPV 76 has a cruising range of 3000 nautical miles (more than 5500 kilometres). The ship is operated by a crew of around forty depending on the armament suite chosen by the customer. Although featuring a flight deck able to accommodate a NHIndustries NH90-sized helicopter, no hangar is present.

The original design layout marketed by Dearsan features a 76mm Leonardo Super Rapid Gun on the bow, a 40mm OTO Marlin 40 on the rear superstructure, two 12.7 mm remote weapon stations (RWS), two manned 12.7 mm HMGs and 2x2 MANPADS stations along with the required radar and sensors, yet Nigeria has opted for a different armament suite for its two ships. As Turkey is increasingly localising its own defence needs, soon also manufacturing a domestic copy of the Italian 76mm gun, Turkish shipyards no longer have to rely on foreign-made weaponry when offering their ships for export. [7]
In fact, the only weapons system on Nigeria's OPV 76s not sourced from Turkey is the 40mm OTO Marlin 40, which replaces the 76mm gun otherwise found on the bow. The Marlin 40 position on the rear superstructure is replaced by a 25mm Aselsan STOP RWS while three 12.7mm Aselsan STAMP RWS replace the MANPADS stations. Several manned machine guns complete the armament suite. Other Aselsan products on the ship include a MAR-D 3D search radar, an Alper LPI navigation radar and a DenizGözü-AHTAPOT (Sea Eye-Octopus) EO/IR sensor system. [8]

An image of the OPV 76 depicting the original armament suite on offer.

Once in active service, the two OPV 76s will supplement two P18N OPVs, two Hamilton-class OPVs and a number of smaller fast attack craft now repurposed to the role of OPV. Unlike the OPV 76, the P18N and Hamilton-class cutter have a helicopter hangar, although the Nigerian Navy seldomly assigns any helicopters to its ships during operational deployments. For operations in territorial waters, the Nigerian Navy operates several Shaldag Mk2 and Sea Eagle Fast Patrol Craft. Facing little in the way of a conventional maritime threat, Nigeria has removed the anti-ship missiles (AShMs) from any ship that still carried them.

The NMS Unity (F92), one of Nigeria's two Chinese-made P18N class OPVs. Note the A109 coming into land on the helicopter deck.

As Turkey expands its footprint in Africa a proportional rise in arms deals is coming about. The country has slowly engineered a unique position of being capable of offering a wide array of modern and reliable weaponry at affordable prices, something Nigeria is now reaping the benefits from. Nigeria is already Turkey's largest Sub-Saharan African trading partner, and Turkey aims to further its trade and cooperation in the defense industry. [9] During President Erdoğan's visit to Nigeria in October 2021, several agreements were signed in the field of energy, mining and defence. [10] This might also have included a sale of Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs, which Nigeria has previously expressed significant interest in. [11]

More than just arranging for the sale of OPV 76s to Nigeria, the deal also proves that Turkish shipyards no longer have to rely on foreign-made weaponry when offering their ships for export. It won't be long before the Turkish defence industry will be capable of producing every type of associated armament, including cannons, anti-ship missiles, air-defence missiles and equipment such as radars and vertical launching systems (VLS). At this pace, Turkey will likely be self-sufficient in nearly every requirement for its defence sector in ten to fifteen years. Its journey to this self-sufficiency is arguably the fastest of its kind occurring today, surpassing even that of South Korea. Countries currently supplying weaponry to Turkey might in ten years instead be acquiring it from Turkey, showing the fruits of decades of investment in its defence industry.

[1] Turkey to Export Unmanned Mine Clearing Equipment to Burkina Faso
[4] Hull of Nigeria’s Seaward Defence Boat 3 (SDB III) comes together
[5] Small But Deadly - Turkish Fast Attack Craft In Service With Turkmenistan
[7] MKEK’nin 2023 Vizyonunda Hedef 76mm’den Sonra 127mm Deniz Topu’nu da Millileştirmek! 
[9] 'Turkey aims to boost cooperation in defense industry with Nigeria' 
[11] French media eyes Turkish drones during Erdoğan’s Africa trip
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