Egypt assault ship acquisition highlights military strategy

Sunday 12/06/2016
Egyptian sailors board the ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser, a French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, for a one-week training session on May 6th, in Saint-Nazaire, western France.

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.