Egypt assault ship acquisition highlights military strategy
Cairo - Apart from helping it tighten control on its extended coastline, boost its naval power and defend its maritime interests, Egypt’s recent acquisition of a French helicopter carrier may give insights into its future military strategies, experts said.
“The helicopter carrier is like a military base that can move from one place to another in no time,” retired army major-general Mahmoud Khalaf said. “This is why it makes our navy more capable of acting swiftly to defend Egyptian interests away from our borders.”
Egypt received the helicopter carrier from France on June 2nd, the first of two originally built for Russia. Egypt is to receive the other carrier in September.
Each of the Mistral-class assault ships can carry 16 helicopters, four amphibious landing craft, 70 armoured vehicles and 450 soldiers. They are equipped with a 69-bed hospital and can function as amphibious command ships.
Military experts said the carriers will help Egypt better control its 3,000km Mediterranean and the Red Sea coasts, act swiftly to confront seaborne threats to security in the Sinai peninsula sea and strengthen its overall naval power.
With 11 frigates, two corvettes, eight submarines and 174 coastal defence craft, Egypt’s navy is the world’s 12th strongest, according to the military rating site Global Fire Power.
Along with threats coming from Libya on its western border, Egypt has been battling a stubborn Islamic State-linked insurgency in the Sinai for more than three years. In July 2015, Islamic State (ISIS) militants attacked an Egyptian patrol ship off the coast of northern Sinai in the Mediterranean, causing it to burst into flames.
By acquiring the French assault ships, Egypt is focused on threats to the Suez Canal from the Red Sea, its desire to protect newly discovered natural gas and oil fields in the Mediterranean, the urgency of acting against radical groups controlling parts of the Libyan coast and the need to help defend other Arab countries if the need arises.
After raising the Egyptian flag on the helicopter carrier — named after the late revolutionary leader Gamal Abdel Nasser — during ceremonies in the French city of Toulouse, Egyptian Navy Commander Vice- Admiral Osama Rabie said the ship could “be used in combat missions outside Egypt”.
Khalaf said the Red Sea was a possible location for one of these missions.
“The Red Sea has, in recent years, turned into a source of threat for the Suez Canal,” Khalaf said. “Iran also has a growing presence in the Bab el Mandeb strait by aiding Yemen’s Houthis, which can in the end translate into real threats for Egypt’s security and the security of the international maritime movement.”
An estimated 3.2 million barrels of oil cross the Suez Canal from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean on the way to markets in Europe, Asia and the United States every day, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
The importance of the Suez Canal for world trade and the importance of empowering Egypt to defend it may explain why France did not mind selling the helicopter carriers to Egypt after it refused to deliver them to Russia. Egypt cannot sell the ships to a third country without approval from the French government, according to the sale agreement.
Libya, Egypt’s immediate neighbour, has become a nest of local and international militants. ISIS controls several points in the North African country, including the coastal city of Sirte.
“The helicopter carriers will give Egypt the freedom of movement to strike the militants, whether this was in Libya or anywhere else,” political analyst Abdel-Monem Halawa said. “By controlling the coast, Egypt can prevent the smuggling of arms and militants into the restive state, whose turmoil has greatly impacted Egypt’s security.”
Military experts said the acquisition of the French assault ships should not be viewed separately from a deal Egypt signed with France for the purchase of 24 Rafale fighter jets. Egypt has taken delivery of six of the aircraft so far.
The combat aircraft is capable of carrying out a wide range of short-and long-range missions, including ground and sea attacks, reconnaissance and high-accuracy strikes.