Potential deal with UAE boosts Egypt’s hopes to join ranks of arms exporters

Egypt has sent models of its locally made ST-100 MRAP armoured vehicles for experimentation in the desert of Abu Dhabi.
Saturday 17/08/2019
An Egyptian military officer looks at an ST-100 MRAP armoured vehicle at Egypt’s first Service Defence Exhibition in Cairo, last December. (AFP)
Big ambitions. An Egyptian military officer looks at an ST-100 MRAP armoured vehicle at Egypt’s first Service Defence Exhibition in Cairo, last December. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt is close to securing the first deal for the export of its locally made ST-100 MRAP armoured vehicles, which offer protection against ballistic missiles and bomb threats.

Egypt has sent models of the vehicle for experimentation in the desert of Abu Dhabi, said Youssri al-Nemr, chairman of the Armed Vehicles Maintenance and Production Factory, one of Egypt’s military production facilities.

He said he expected the export contract for the vehicles to be signed with the United Arab Emirates in August.

Together with those in the pipeline with other Arab and African states, the UAE contract brings Egypt close to a long-time strategic goal of becoming an arms manufacturer and exporter and turning military industries into a major source of income.

Egypt has been developing its military industries with the initial aim of satisfying the domestic demand for arms and using available industrial capabilities in making money from military industries.

Egypt plans to be a full arms producer and exporter by 2030. It has signed dozens of manufacturing deals with countries such as the United States, China, Russia, France, South Korea and the United Kingdom to localise military industries.

The deals allowed Egyptian military production plants to produce a wide range of military equipment, including tanks (US M1 Abrams main battle tanks among them), helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, training jets, corvettes and light weapons, including machine guns.

“Egypt has been making steady progress in military production, which underscores national ambitions in this regard,” said retired army General Nasr Salem. “Local military plants produce a diversified range of arms that are needed by the Egyptian Army and are also needed by other armies in the region.”

There are 26 military factories in Egypt, most of which are owned by the Egyptian Ministry of Defence. Each of the factories has its own research and development department employing hundreds of military engineers and scientists developing new weapons or designing upgrades for weaponry possessed by the Egyptian Army.

The level of progress reached by these factories was manifest at the first Egypt Defence Expo in 2018. Local military factories showcased a wide range of products.

Products featured included ST-100 vehicles and the smaller ST-500s. The vehicles are produced by International Marathon United Technology Group and the Ministry of Military Production.

Egyptian military exhibitors displayed models of fighter and training jets, such as the K-8 training jet and three models of drones manufactured with China.

The products on display also included models of the Gowind-class corvette, the five-seat attack Gazelle helicopter and coastal patrol boats. They also included the early warning Surveillance Radar ESR-32 2D.

“The fair gave thousands of military specialists a window into the high level of local military production,” said retired intelligence officer Mohamed al-Shahawi. “It also served the national arms marketing strategy by bringing together potential buyers and partners.”

The Egyptian Ministry of Military Production, which oversees the development of the national military production strategy, has been pursuing aggressive marketing policies to draw in potential buyers.

Apart from the Egypt Defence Expo, which is to be every two years, the ministry has hosted dozens of Arab and African military officials for tours of factories and production centres.

Nevertheless, Egypt’s road to becoming an arms manufacturer and exporter is far from smooth, experts said.

Among the challenges is competition with more advanced manufacturers, including in the region, the high cost of research and the reluctance of military partners to transfer military production technology, they added.

“These are challenges that cannot be easily overcome,” said retired army General Gamal Eddine Mazloum. “Self-dependence by reliance on scientific research is also very costly.”

However, the ST-100 MRAP vehicles are an example of the country being up to the challenge. The vehicles have a classic body design, with two side doors, one rear door, one weapon escape hatch and one roof hatch.

The vehicles can be fitted with a wide range of light remote-controlled weapon stations. Remote turrets can be armed with a 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine gun or a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. The armament is mounted on top of the roof of the vehicle, which has a single hatch.

“The vehicles are very competitive, demonstrating Egypt’s ability to produce advanced defence systems,” Salem said. “True, there are challenges but they will be easily overcome in the presence of a national will at the highest level to score real progress in this field.”