The Egyptian Air Force has seen a lot of ups and downs ever since its inception in 1928. It was completely destroyed twice through its history and was forced to rebuild from scratch. Nevertheless, the air force of Egypt is now the most powerful air force in the Arab world and the fourth most powerful air force in the world. Below given is a brief sketch of how Egypt air force has been the perfect epitome of a phoenix that dies, only to rise from the ashes and re-grow into a beautiful bird.
History of Egyptian Air Force
The air force in Egypt was established in 1928 when the Egyptian Parliament decided that the country needed a defense force that could protect the country from the skies. In the first selection process, out of two hundred candidates who applied for recruitments, only three were found eligible.
The names of the three pilots, Faud Abd El-Hamid, Ahmed Abd El-Raziq and Abd El-Minuim Miquati, are carved in the history of Egyptian defense forces and will remain there forever. In order to train these pilots, flying training school was established in Abu Suwayer, which is located close to the Suez Canal. These pilots were trained in flying planes of all sizes and varieties. After they completed their basic training in Egypt, they were sent to England for advanced courses in air combat.
Although the seed of air force was sown in 1928, it was only on the 2nd of November 1930 that the then king, King Faud along with the King of Sudan made a formal declaration of forming an air force wing. Air force got the name of EAAF, which stood for Egyptian Army Air Force. Some of the first planes that Egypt acquired for its air force were manufactured and supplied by the British company British De Havilland. Egypt was to be supplied with ten DH-60 tiger moth trainers. However, only five were flown in from England by the first three pilots of the air force and two British pilots on 23 May 1932. The other five aircrafts arrived on June 2nd.
A Canadian by name Victor Herbert Tait, who was a squadron leader, became the first EAAF commander. He played a very major role in shaping the Egyptian air force. His first activities were to build a strong and reliable staff and be equipped with weapons of air combat. He also placed special emphasis on creating air bases where personnel could receive world class training facility. Owing to his interest in amassing weapons for the air force, Egypt was sanctioned another set of aircrafts, this time ten Avro-626, by the British government. Avro-626 fleet was the first planes of combat that the country received.
All through these developments in the air force, it still remained under the army wing. It was not until 1937 that the Egyptian air force was given the status of a separate force and removed from under the army wing. The name EAAF was changed to REAF, which stood for Royal Egyptian Air Force. The following year, air force received two gloster gladiator fighter squadrons and one Westland Lysander’s reconnaissance aircraft squadron.
Besides providing aerial protection to the country, air force was largely involved in curbing drug smuggling. The force was also involved in mapping activities by providing aerial photographs. Massive developmental activities were taking place in the air force wing, the major of them being development of training centers. As the fleet strength grew, new bases began to be formed in western desert and along the Suez Canal.
By 1938, Egyptian air force had five squadrons but not all of them were used exclusively for air defense, except gloster gladiator fighter squadrons. The single Westland Lysander squadron was used to augment the strength of army and the naval forces. Of the two Anson squadrons, one was used for royal transportation while the other was used for general transportation of the armed forces.
The first test of strength of the newly formed Egyptian air force came in the form of World War II. The air force aimed at providing security over the Red Sea. Their focus was to defend the British islands against the Axes attacks from the sea and air. Missions were carried out against the Italian and German forces and the Egyptian air force successfully brought down some of the bomber planes of the Germans such as Henkil He III.
The first time when the Egyptian air force got the opportunity to plan combats on its own was during the War of Independence of Israel in 1947-48. The independent State of Israel was established on 14th May 1948. In the same year, Egypt became a major part of the comprehensive Arab military alliance, which was formed to support Palestine against attacks from Israel. Spitfires, Short Sterling bomber and light bombers C-47 Dakotas were contributed by the Egyptians for the alliance. Sinai airbase was used in this war for the first time. The Egyptian force was not a strong force in the 1940s.
However, during this war, Egypt made a folly and attacked the air base at Ramat David on May 22nd, believing that the base belonged to Israel. Unfortunately for the Egyptians, the base belonged to the British and the attack caused a massive loss of many RAF aircrafts. An airman was also killed in the attack. However, since the British were uncertain about who the attackers were, they did not retaliate. When Egypt carried out the second air raid, they were met with resistance from the British, which ended up destroying the whole Egyptian mission fleet.
Despite the enormous folly by Egypt, British reformed strong ties with the country and supplied Gloster Meteor F4 and De Havilland Vampire FB5s in 1949. Also, the existing fleet was upgraded with the latest Spitfire MK 22 planes. In the same war, the then king of Egypt, King Farouk was dethroned following a coup by the armed forces. It was also the first time when Egypt went into the hands of the military. General Nasser was declared the first President of Egypt, thus putting an end to Monarchy rule.
In 1952, Egyptian Revolution broke out. After this phase, Egypt decided to become completely autonomous and eliminate dependence on the British. In a massive drive to acquire weapons, General Nasser ordered weapons from USSR. The Egypt aircraft received Yak-11 trainers, Il-14 transports, MiG-15 Fighters and Ilyushin Il-28 bombers. In order to train the crew, Czech instructors were flown down. This phase can be said to be the golden period for Egypt air force since the country set up its own aircraft manufacturing base. Primary trainers, Gomhouria Bu 181 Bestmann, designed by the Czech were the first planes manufactured in the country.
Between 1954 and 1961, the air force training academy, which was first set up in 1938, went through tremendous modernization. The academy consisted of five wings, viz., Administration Wing, Cadets Wing, Technical Wong, Science Wing and Flying Wing. The director of the air academy was Hosni Mobarak until he rose to Presidency.
In 1956, the ambitious General Nasser declared nationalization of Suez Canal. This led to a major war between Egypt and the combined forces of UK, France and Israel. Although the entire defense system of Egypt was defeated, it also gave them a chance to be on their own feet. Their dependency on England died and they rebuilt their air force without British support. The Soviets were supportive and by 1960s, the whole of Egyptian air force wing comprised of Soviet crafts and weapons along with equipment supplied by Arab states. This development caused modernization of Egypt air force and they sported MiG-21 Fishbed enabled with Mach 2 and Sukhoi Su-7. Egypt’s own production and pride, however, was Helwan HA 300, a supersonic aircraft and the first of its kind in EAF.
During the Yemen war that followed in the 60s, EAF was involved in bombing Najran and Jizan of Saudi Arabia. Saudi responded by developing their own air base with the support of the British and Americans. The Six Days War of 1967, against Israel, dented EAF’s strength in a big way, following Operation Focus launched by Israel.
Air force of Egypt underwent total collapse during the Arab-Israel war, which started on June 5th 1967. Entire Egyptian air fields were destroyed by Israel’s surprise attack. Israel attacked mainly due to its insecurity because they had a weaker air force in terms of numbers. However, Israel air force was better organized and the personnel were more disciplined and better trained. Their intelligence was also very efficient. In this war, Egypt lost 18 air bases, 300 combat aircrafts and 100 combat pilots.
Following this total destruction, Egypt has to rebuild its entire air force. Unfortunately, the October War of 1973 again caused a complete collapse of the EAF and the country was forced to restart their rebuilding efforts. Soviet Union was a huge help during those years of crisis. Following this double collapse, General Nasser began focusing on electronic warfare and trained the personnel in low-level attacks. He understood that the air force required something much more than state of the art weaponry and equipment.
Between 1967 and 70, War of Attrition took place between Egypt and Israel. This war saw a major development of EAF as it acquired combat planes from Soviets. EAF grew to be the strongest force in the entire Egypt defense system. The force had planes and weapons such as Mirage IIIE, donated by Libya, Su-7BM, SA-3 Pechora, SA-6 Gainful, SA-7 SAMs and ZSU-23-4SP. The Soviet Union helped Egypt with more than a hundred MiG-21s and many other air crafts. After the bad defeat of 1967, Egypt focused on better training of personnel and planning strategies. Although Egypt air force was much better prepared to face Israel during the October war, they lost more than 200 planes.
The other major wars that tested the strength and helped shape the air force were El-Mansourah air battle of 1973 and the Libya-Egyptian war. Operation Bright Star, which is conducted by Egypt air force every alternate year beginning from 1980, is another operation that impacts the air force in growth and development.
During the 90s and the beginning of 21st century, Egypt expanded its air force significantly. Major future plans were laid in the 90s and the force became much stronger than ever before. Hosni Mubarak, the ex-President of Egypt, started his career as an Egyptian air force officer.
Present of Egyptian Air Force
The present strength of the Egypt air force is substantial. The country owns some of the best aircrafts and weapons of combat. The Egyptian air force is led by Air Marshall Reda Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed. With a motto that says “Higher and higher for the sake of glory”, the Egypt air force has built up formidable strength and is now the fourth largest F-16 operator in the world. The strong pillars of Egyptian air force are its two hundred and twenty F-16 fighters. Egypt also boasts of the strongest and the largest air force in the entire Arab world. The current strength is about five hundred and fifty air crafts in all.
A very important facet of the Egyptian air force is its air defense command. It is called the Egyptian Air Defense Command (EADC). While the air force consists of crafts that are used for a number of purposes ranging from combat to governmental transportation, EADC is that wing that takes care of defense against aerial attacks. It is responsible for all the rockets, anti-aircraft guns, interceptor planes, missile units and warning and radar systems. This major force employs over 30,000 personnel and 40,000 conscripts.
The air force has 32 fighter bombers such as F-4 Phantom II supplied by the United States, assault support crafts such as UH-60 Black Hawk, Commandos, Mi-17 HIP, Mi-8 HIP, CH-47 Chinook and attaches helicopters such as SA-342 Gazelle.
Besides these, the air force of Egypt houses a large number of primary, rotary, navigational and advanced trainers such as dCH 5 Buffalo, Z-142 C, UH-12 Raven, L-39 Albatross, K-8 Karakorum, G-115 Tutor and EBM-312 Tocano.
Air force also takes up a number of mapping and geology activities for which it houses crafts that help in reconnaissance. Some of the planes in this category are Mirage V, MiG-21 Fishbed, Camcopter, Kader and Model 324 Scarab.
In addition to these crafts, the air force has E2 Hawkeye, obtained from the United States, which is an airborne early warning and control system.
In the government and Presidential fleet, the Egyptian air force has one Airbus A340, four Beechcraft Super King Air, one Boeing 707, four Boeing 737, three Dassault Falcon 20, two Gulfstream III, four Gulfstream IV, one VC-130H Hercules, two Agusta AS-61 A-4 Sea King, two Sikorsky UH 60 Black Hawk and two Westland Commando MK-2B.
Many of these aircrafts have been obtained in collaboration with England, Libya, France, Italy, United States, Russia, the old Soviet Union, Canada, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Brazil, Pakistan, Germany, China and Turkey.
As of now, Egypt air force houses thirty five AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. The force receives substantial aid from the United States. In 2011, the Egypt defense forces on the whole received an aid of $1.33 billion.
Future of Egyptian Air Force
Egypt air force is on a major modernization drive. The crafts are being upgraded for better performance and power. The modernization drive was initiated by Air Marshall Ahmed Shafik in the 1990s. He is largely responsible for creating a vision for the 21st century Egypt air force. The plans for modernization focused not only on acquiring state of the art air force paraphernalia, but also on including air and space reconnaissance systems, aerial refueling facility and airborne control and command capability.
Several Egyptian plans for strengthening the air force were hampered by Israel since they refuted orders placed to United States saying that the acquisitions would be used against them. Egypt failed to acquire twelve strike fighters of F-15E Strike Eagle cadre from the United States following this accusation.
Undeterred, Egypt approached Russia for acquisition of sixty to eighty MiG-29 SMTs, twenty to forty Yak-130 and twenty to twenty five Sukhoi Su-35s. Besides Russia, the Egypt air force has also approached Ukraine in a bid to upgrade the existing MiG-21 fleet. In line for delivery are R-73 missiles and Helmet mounted sight. Twenty Lockheed Martin Advanced Block 52 F-16C/D jets have also been ordered. These are supposed to reach Egypt by 2013. The contract is inclusive of upgrading Mk-84 GP bombs through JDAM kits and a number of support equipment.
Egypt has also placed an $820 million order to acquire ten AH-64D Apache Block II attack helicopters, which will be a part of the fleet comprising thirty five to forty two AH-64 attack helicopters existing in the air force. The existing helicopters have been modernized and they are now on par with AH-64D Block I. The deal was sealed in May 2009.
The present political crisis Egypt might affect some of these acquisitions. Although nothing much has been revealed, the effect of the political and social turmoil in the country on future plans of air force is to be seen. However, despite being armed with the best force in the Arab world and the fourth best in the world, the future of Egypt air force does seem hazy. Solving the current crisis will probably make inroads to developing a stronger and better air force for the future.