Egypt, Russia bolster military cooperation with first joint air defence exercise
CAIRO - Air defence units from Egypt and Russia conducted a joint exercise, the first of its kind between the two countries.
Called Arrow of Friendship 1, the exercise marked a step forward in military cooperation between Egypt and Russia and compounds several joint military activities that, as of 2016, intensified.
Stepped-up military cooperation between the two countries comes as Russia tries to expand its influence in the Middle East beyond Syria, where it has a military presence on the ground.
“Russia has become an essential player on the regional scene,” said Tamer al-Shahawi, a member of the Defence and National Security Committee in the Egyptian parliament.
Russia is interested in expanding its presence in Africa, not only militarily but also at the economic level.
In demonstrating its readiness to help African countries’ military and security Moscow looks to help against the increasing presence of terrorist groups, especially in North Africa, the Sahel and Sahara regions, analysts said.
This was manifest during the Russia-Africa summit during which Russian President Vladimir Putin met with dozens of African leaders and discussed trade, investment and military and security cooperation.
Russia is also interested in testing weaponry in desert environments, in its bid to open new markets for its arms manufacturers as African and Arab countries look to overhaul their militaries to meet growing security challenges.
Dozens of Russian air defence officers and personnel arrived October 26 in Egypt for the training, which was scheduled to last until November 7. They brought several Russian air-defence systems, including the Tor missile system, which is designed to engage aeroplanes, helicopters and cruise missiles; the Buk missile system, which is designed to counter smart bombs and fixed and unmanned aerial vehicles; and ZSU-23-4 Shilka, a lightly armoured self-propelled radar-guided anti-craft weapon system.
Video broadcast by the Russian news channel RT showed Russian officers training Egyptian forces using the systems.
The training comes as Egypt looks to play a more effective role in preserving regional and international security, especially security of the Red Sea, analysts said.
Apart from working to protect its interests in the Mediterranean, including natural gas reserves off its Mediterranean coast, Egypt is working to play a stronger role in African counterterrorism operations.
“Our country faces a wide range of security threats that need the highest level of military preparedness,” said retired Egyptian Air Force General Ahmed Kamal al-Mansouri. “In its capacity as the head of the African Union, Egypt also looks to help other African states address the security challenges they are facing.”
Egypt has paid billions of dollars in the past four years to buy Russian arms, including air defence systems and fighter jets, as part of a plan to diversify weaponry and reduce dependence on Western suppliers.
The arms deals maintain traditional military cooperation between the two countries, one that reached its climax during the 1970s with most of the weapons used by Egypt in its war against Israel for the liberation of Sinai originating in the Soviet Union. Some of the weapons used by the Egyptian Army now, including tanks and fighter jets, date to the Soviet era.
Arrow of Friendship 1 training included an exchange of training expertise in air defence, the Egyptian Army said.
“This comes as aerial attack and air-defence weapons become more sophisticated,” Egyptian Army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tamer al-Rifae said.
He noted that training activities would include practising securing airspace and the protection of vital targets.
Egypt and Russia have had several joint military activities in the past four years, including Guardians of Friendship 4 that took place in Russia in August.
Hundreds of paratroopers from Russia, Belarus and Egypt participated in the training, which included counterterrorism operations and battlefield planning.
Joint military activities between the two countries reflect growing relations between them, analysts said.
“They are also a reflection of the presence of a strong desire in Cairo and Moscow for taking military cooperation between them many steps forward as both capitals share similar concerns,” said political analyst Abdelmonem Halawa.