Ongoing challenge of rebuilding the Egyptian army

By Akram Kharief  

It is September 2018, the Egyptian Navy, which is one of the largest navy forces in the region, has just signed a 1.3 billion dollars contract for two German frigates MEKO from Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems. Before the official announcement, the German federal government having noted that the funds would come from Saudi Arabia, which is currently under German embargo, asked to delay the deal and ensure that this offense weapon would not be under Saudi command.

French fighter Rafale 

A month later, President Al Sissi had to make the trip to Berlin and meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel to deblock the situation and give guarantees to Germany.

This deal will have a technical cost, which is in the agreement that the Egyptian Navy will not have access to the mid-range anti-aircraft ballistic missile Aster 30, to be replaced by the more modest South African Umkhonto missile, nor, according to our information, to the Vulcan guided shells for the ships guns.

This story sums up the situation of the most populated country in the Arab world with 99 inhabitants. Lack of funding, inability to keep a single supplier, lack of consistent logistical strategy and obligation to have a huge army are the seven plagues of Egypt.

The Egyptian Navy is a good example of these anomalies. Two French BDSLs, Mistral, a French FREMM frigate, two Type 209 German submarines, four American Perry frigates, two Knox frigates and two Chinese Jianghu frigates. As well for the corvettes, the Egyptian Navy has two French Gowinds, one Korean Pohang, and two Spanish Descubierda.

This diversification directly impacts the logistics of weapons systems and communications networks. For example, in terms of surface-to-surface missiles, the Egypt Navy is found with American UGM-84 Harpoon, MM-40 French Exocet, Soviet or Chinese P-15. The situation is worse in regard of anti-aircraft missiles, where French Aster 15 and MICA VL coexist with American SM1 and RAM, and Russian Igla systems.

The same applies to communications systems, IFF encryption which comes from at least three providers each time.

Another deficiency of the Egyptian army is that for more than 30 years, it has been dependent on US military aid with access to EDA (Excess Defence Articles) and therefore to second-hand equipment, not always of good quality or in good condition.

After the fall of the Anwar Al Sadat regime in 2012 and after the coup against President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, US aid of 3 billion dollars a year was suddenly stopped, with the added bonus of a quasi-embargo on weapons from the United States. All this had effect on maintaining the operational condition of the various equipment.

In the face of the near civil war and the establishment of a terrorist partisan groups in the Sinai, the Egyptian army was forced to rethink its strategy and re-equip its troops to face a well-armed ISIS-type rebellion in Syria and Iraq.

For this, a greater interest has been on the protection of soldiers with more precise weaponry and means of armoured transport. It should be mentioned about the introduction of MRAPs and jamming vehicles in large numbers and the local installation, in cooperation with KrAZ, of Temsah anti-mining transport vehicles.

In addition to Sinai, Cairo is in a dangerous neighbourhood. In the South, troublesome Sudan requires a positioning of troops rather far away from the capital. The same might be said about Ethiopia, which plans to build a large dam on the Nile and which has pushed Egypt to reconsider its doctrines and its means of intervention far from its borders and to think about ordering supply vessels and means of force projection.

In the West, Libya is a factor of instability that mobilizes air support, intelligence and even intervention capabilities. The price for the material support of Marshal Haftar was rather high and was paid by Egypt in resources.

Finally, Israel remains a threat to Cairo and often acts as an arbiter in Egyptian arms purchases. For example, it required authorization from Tel Aviv and special weapons conditions (no missile capabilities for submarines) for TKMS to sell the two type 209 submarines and agree to sell two MEKO frigates.

Nevertheless, Egypt suffers from a hidden embargo on some individual equipment from certain countries. The United States, Germany, Great Britain, and Italy no longer grant licences to export small arms to Egypt. Beretta, who had secured the first contract with the Egyptian Naval Special Forces for the ARX160 and ARX200 assault rifles, was unable to secure a larger contract to equip the army. Finally it was CZ with its Bren 2 who took Beretta's place.

Another problem facing Egypt is the lack of funding and the economic dependence on Saudi and UAE aid. It was this lack of economic stability that frightened Russia, which took advantage of the Mistral recovery package but limited the quality of the arms delivered to Egypt. Between 2012 and 2017, Egypt demanded a credit of 60% of the contract amount. In 2018, Cairo stipulates signing the contracts for armament delivery with the credit in the value of 100% of the contract price.


155 mm howitzer, M109, USA


Today, this financial instability weighs heavily on Egypt's relations with its suppliers. Russia now sells only with cash payments. The French government which guaranteed the Egyptian credits (Rafale and FREMM), does not do it anymore. Only Germany in the MEKO contract offers this type of credit via the Euler Hermes fund, but again, Germany can very quickly restrict its arms exports to non-NATO countries.

Under the presidency of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt's arms imports have increased by 215% over the last five years. Although this increase is drastic, it's not a surprise. Threats to Egypt's national security have increased significantly since 2013, and the Egyptian “war against terrorism” has been a key element of the Sisi presidency.

Over the past five years, France has been the most successful country in establishing close relations with Egypt in the armaments sector. According to SIPRI data, 37% of Egypt's arms import during this period came from France, 26% from the United States, and 21% – from Russia.

Egypt's main trade agreements 

Since the June 30 revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has invoked a new strategy to diversify its external relations. By excluding the United States, which traditionally had had a monopoly on military imports of Egypt, Sisi diversified its suppliers. France, Russia, and Germany, among others, have received large orders for military equipment delivery from the Egyptian regime.

In 2014, President Sisi's visit to Russia resulted in a USD 3.5 billion arms import contract, aimed to modernize the Egyptian missile system and strengthen the country's already large air force. The agreement also included 46 MIG-29M / M2 fighter aircraft, S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. In 2015, Egypt signed an agreement with Russia on 46 Ka-52 helicopters delivery, and discussions are underway to adapt the order or a draft of a new agreement to import Ka-52Ks with naval capabilities.

Relations with Russia have been excellent between 2012 and 2017. Egypt took advantage of this friendship with Moscow and completely renewed its most important army corps which is an anti-aircraft defence.

The Egyptian army is aware since the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 and after the Soviet recommendations, that to face the Israeli enemy, they have to dominate the sky with missiles. With the break between the two countries, in the 1980s, Egypt turned to France and the United States, to strengthen its anti-aircraft defence system which was getting older.

They chose the Hawk and the Rattlesnake as intermediate mobile systems and 72 ANTPS radars. Egypt also invested in the EW with the purchase of six Hawkeye E-2C radars for aircrafts. But this strategy was changed since 2012 with the reconstruction of an effective 2A2D system based on the Russian experience. This structure is based on two conditions: the mobility of equipment and its autonomy. The second is the capacity for self-protection and mutual protection of the systems.

For this, Egypt upgraded its S-75 (wheeled), S-125 and KUB systems with better radars and data links. To support its armoured divisions, the Air Defence forces deploy S-125 on mobile chassis, KUB, and Tor M1. For its regional defence, Egypt relies on the S-300SV which are protected by BUK, acquired in 2005.

Recently, the command of the Egyptian Air Defence Forces followed the trend of the rest of the army by contracting the purchase of seven short-range IRS-T systems from the German manufacturer Diehl Systems.

This diversification trend began with the Rafales.

Also in 2015, Egypt agreed to purchase 24 Rafale fighter jets from France as a part of a 5.9 billion dollars arms deal. In 2016, Egypt also decided to purchase two Mistral helicopter carriers, in order to develop Egypt's military capabilities.

In conclusion, the future of Egypt as a major client of the arms market seems very uncertain. Unless it is getting closer to China, it will be increasingly difficult for Cairo to maintain such a large army.


©New defence order. Strategy | 01 | 2019 

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