Egypt buying helicopter carriers from France
CAIRO - Egypt has continued its shift to French-built military equipment with the purchase of two Mistral helicopter carriers from Paris in a $1.1 billion deal.
Cairo has responded to security threats on several fronts — militants linked to Islamic State (ISIS) to the west in Libya and to the east in the Sinai peninsula, and Yemeni rebels near the southern entrance to the Red Sea — with a military spending spree.
Egypt in July took deliveries of three of the 24 Rafale fighter jets which are part of a $5.9 billion agreement with France. Also included in that contract are missiles and a frigate. Cairo has also been in talks with Russia about advanced air defence systems, fighter jets and helicopters. The Mistral deal involves already-installed Russian equipment on the ship along with attack helicopters.
French President François Hollande said on September 23rd that he had agreed with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the price and the conditions of the Mistral deal. A French Defence Ministry source said the Mistral contract was worth $1.1 billion.
The ships are expected to be delivered to Egypt in March after about 400 Egyptian sailors are trained to operate them.
“The deal will help boost the navy and also change the naval balance of power in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea,” said Alaa Ezz Eddin, a retired general. “It will also help our country have deep-sea supremacy at a time of great peril.”
Egypt has the world’s 13th largest military, according to Business Insider.
With about 470,000 personnel on active duty, almost 5,000 tanks, 1,100 military aircraft and four submarines, the Egyptian military is considered the most powerful in the Arab region and Africa.
Nevertheless, Egypt, with a coastline of 2,000 kilometres on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, does not have an aircraft carrier. The Mistral deal gives Egypt its first helicopter carrier.
Especially disquieting for decision-makers in Cairo is the situation in Yemen, which since March has been the target of air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition seeking to displace Shia Houthi militia. The Iran-backed force has overrun the capital, Sana’a, and other provinces. Only recently has Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his cabinet returned from exile in Saudi Arabia.
“This will pose threats to the Suez Canal,” military expert Shawki al-Hefnawi said. “It will also cause huge losses to Egypt.”
This was probably why the Egyptian Navy, shortly after the Saudi-led coalition — of which Egypt is part — struck Houthi positions in Yemen controlling Bab el Mandeb, the strait between Yemen and Djibouti and the southern entrance of the Red Sea.
Egypt sent warships to the strait to prevent potential threats to the Suez Canal, a linchpin for Cairo’s economy.
Egypt is also facing threats from the west where ISIS recently overran three eastern Libyan cities and in recent months launched four attacks against Egyptian troops in Egypt’s western region. Cairo has been trying to support the army of Libya’s internationally backed House of Representatives. Nevertheless, ISIS continues to expand in Libya.
There have been a series of attacks by groups linked to ISIS in the Sinai that have killed dozens of people.
The Mistrals, French-made amphibious assault warships, are each capable of carrying about 16 helicopters, up to 16 vehicles and 450 troops. Paris and Moscow in August agreed that France would repay $1.1 billion to cancel a 2011 deal for the delivery of two of the warships to Russia.
The Arabic-language Russian news channel Russia Today quoted Russian presidency spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that Moscow hoped France would take Russian interests into account when selling the warships.
A few days later, Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets quoted unnamed Russian sources as saying that Egypt would purchase one of the Mistrals with direct Russian financial support. The source said Egypt would have to commit to buying a number of Russian Kamov Ka-52 “Alligator” helicopters.
“If this deal goes through, for Russia it is very advantageous, since the loan is in fact a trademark: a large consignment of helicopters will be based at our Russian defence industry, taxes will go into our budget, and the borrower does not receive the money but the product — helicopters made in Russia,” one of the sources was quoted as saying.