The Growing Naval Power of Egypt

This year, Cairo has carried out naval exercises with France, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and is currently conducting drills with the UK, and preparing for exercises with Russian naval force in the coming weeks. The New Defence Order. Strategy talked to Mohamed AL-Kenany, Egyptian researcher and analyst at the Arab Forum for Analysing Iranian Policies (AFAIP), about the growaing naval power of Egypt.

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Commenting on Egypt's naval activity in 2020, especially the exercises that conducted with international partners, Al-Kenany said that "the exercises of the Egyptian naval forces come within the framework of the comprehensive combat development and upgrading plan that the Egyptian Armed Forces began implementing five years ago. This plan comes in line with the interactions of the new geopolitical variables in the Middle East, North and East Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean, which have resulted in a set of threats and challenges requiring advanced and modern armed forces with high combat efficiency and top-notch equipment and weapon systems capable of deterring and meeting theses challanges and threats."

With the arrival of President Al-Sisi to office in 2014, he started a modernisation plan of the Egyptian Armed Forces including the navy. This plan of modernising the navy has so far included the development of infrastructure of the naval units as developing of the main maritime bases to contain a large number of naval vessels and troops, dividing the navy forces into two combat fleets one in the Mediterranean and the other in the Red Sea to make the navy work independently in the strategic directions and also to divide the modernisation plan among the two fleets, as well as the acquisition of equipment and naval vessels.

Al-Kenany believes that there are two main factors behind the increase in the frequency and intensity of these exercises in 2020. The first factor is the need to raise the level of combat readiness, competence and expertise of the Egyptian naval forces, and standing on the latest findings of weapons systems, combat methods, training, concepts of modern sea warfare, and dealing with symmetric and asymmetric threats. Second, the mounting leading role of Egypt in the region, particularly when comes to the files of gas and energy, as well as countering terrorism, illegal migration, and arms smuggling, and last but not least protecting the interests of partners and foreign investors and the movement of commercial ship in the region.

The AFAIP expert says that the imbalance resulting from outbreak of civil wars and chaos in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen has necessitated the presence of a reliable military power capable of restoring the balance in the region and protecting Egypt's interests and those of its partners.

Comparing the capabilities and power of the Egyptian Naval Forces before and after president Al-Sisi, Al-Kenany said that during the reign of President Al-Sisi, from 2015 up to 2020 so far, the Egyptian Navy has witnessed a huge and unprecedented boom in armament systems.

Al-Kenany notes that before 2015, the Navy operated marine vessels that date back to the 1980s at least. However, the landscape has completely changed now with armament deals replacing old vessels. These armament deals include the purchase of naval vessels:

  • Helicopter carriers (two Mistral carriers from France);
  • Frigates (FREMM heavy frigates from France, 2 heavy frigates FREMM Bergamini from Italy, 4 medium frigates MEKO-A200 from Germany);
  • Corvettes (4 corvettes Gowind-2500 from France);
  • Attack missile launches (4 American Ambassador Mk.III Fast Missile Crafts, 1 Russian Molniya Fast Missile Craft);
  • Attack submarines (4 submarines 209 / 1400mod from Germany).

He added that some of the most significant achievements this year have been so far:

  • The transfer of technology to the arsenal of the Alexandria Shipyard, which has so far witnessed the construction of 3 Gowind corvettes and will soon witness the construction of the MEKO-A200 frigate;
  • Making patrol and rapid intervention launches at the shipyard of the Egyptian Ship Repair & Building Company. These include launches of the American Swiftship class patrol boats and French Rafale-1200 rigid-hull inflatable boats for the Naval Special Forces.
  • Egypt has received this year the third 209/1400 submarine and inaugurated the fourth submarine of the same class, which is expected to return to Egypt in the spring of 2021;
  • Egypt has finished building the last Gowind corvette out of 3 corvettes that were agreed to be built locally with the French side;
  • Signed a purchase contract for two FREMM Bergamini frigates with Italy;
  • The first MEKO-A200 frigate is expected to be launched in Germany within the next two months;
  • Egypt discussed with Lürssen Shipbuilding Company the transfer of German shipbuilding technology to Egypt.

As for Cooperation with Russia in this regards, Egypt has obtained from the Russian side the Monliya attack missile launch armed with the P-270 Moskit  supersonic ramjet powered anti-ship cruise missile. Furthermore, Egypt has expressed its interest in the latest versions of the Buyan-M corvette. There have also been negotiations for some time with the Russian side to supply the two Mistral helicopter carriers with marine attack helicopters Ka-52K Katran, navigation and guidance systems, and air defence systems. "We hope that the signing of contracts will be announced soon," said Al-Kenany.

Other potential deals with Russia could include the Kilo 636M submrines. As for coastal defence systems, the Russian Bastion-P mobile coastal defence missile system is the most likely and closest to replacing the obsolete systems of the Egyptian Navy, 4K51 Rubezh and HY-2.

2020 will witness a Russian-Egyptian Naval Exercise in the Black Sea, "Bridge of Friendship-2020" exercise. "The purpose of the exercise is to strengthen and develop military cooperation between the Egyptian Navy and the Russian Navy in the interests of security and stability at sea, as well as to exchange experience between personnel in repelling various threats in areas of heavy navigation," said the press service of the Russian Ministry of Defence in October.

When asking him about potential deals that are coming in the near future, the Egyptian expert said that based on various media reports, Egypt seems to have interests in acquiring more FREMM-class multi-purpose frigates, in addition to a plan to build 20 new naval vessels that have not been identified yet. He expects that these 20 vessels can vary between missile launchers, coastal defence ships, corvettes, and frigates. These might also include supply and logistics ships, which Spain seeks to win their contracts.

Nonetheless, concludes Al-Kenany, negotiating such contracts takes a considerable amount of time to reach an agreement regarding all technical and financial aspects up to the final stage of signature.

According to Global Fire Power (GFP), Egypt's Naval Fleet occupies 7th place in the global ranking of Navy Fleet Strengths (2020).

©«New Defence Order. Strategy» 2020
Interviewed by Reem Mohamed

Read Mohamed AL-Kenany in our special Arabic issue: "Will the S-400 Become Moscow's Primary Tool in Changing the Geopolitical Map of the Middle East?"

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints, and editorial policies of the "New Defence Order Strategy".

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