The Egyptian navy is a young force. It was set up in the 1960s and was largely under neglect for more than a decade. However, by the 80s, naval power got recognition and development works were taken up. Soon, the Egypt navy acquired substantial fleet and went on to become the strongest naval force in the Middle Eastern world. Fleets were upgraded and new fleets were formed in cooperation with various countries such as United States, China, Britain, Italy and France. If one aspect of the power and strength of the naval fleet were to be pointed out, it would undoubtedly be underwater warfare. The Egyptians excelled in submarine usage and planting underwater mines. However, the current turmoil in the country has made the future of navy insecure. Nevertheless, the journey of the Egyptian navy from oblivion to strength is an interesting one. Read on to know more about this major journey of Egypt navy.
Egyptian Navy History
The ancient history of Egypt navy is very interesting. As long ago as 2500BC, Egyptians built boats and used them to fight against enemies. In those days, Egypt naval force was excellent at strategizing and planning water attacks. Most of the attacks were successful. However, as time and centuries passed, the navy of Egypt lost its important. Development was severely stagnant and modernization was restricted until the very modern times.
Although Egypt has a coast line of over 2000 kilometers, there was never a strong naval fleet to protect it from the enemy attacks from the waters in the modern era. The country is bordered by Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, besides the Suez Canal. The Egyptian navy is a relatively young force, being created in the 1960s with the strong support of the Soviet Union. Even after the navy was formed, it only played a very little role in the major wars with Israel. Among the three defense divisions, the army, navy and air force, navy is the smallest force. Nevertheless, when compared to other middle-eastern countries of the largely Arabic world, the Egyptian naval strength is substantial.
After it was formed in the 1960s, the naval wing was the most neglected part of the defense forces. All the focus on development was on the army and air force wings. The 1960s was also the time in Egyptian history when there were major wars going on between Egypt and Israel. The War of Attrition is one of the major wars in this period. Air force and army played a very crucial role in these wars. However, navy was largely passive due to lack of development and modernization.
The actual development of Egypt Navy began in the 1980s. While the naval fleet of the 1960s consisted of Soviet ships and vessels, the modernization drive of the 80s saw an influx of Chinese vessels into the fleet. Inputs were also obtained from the United States and the other western countries. By 1989, Egypt Navy had over 18000 soldiers and ship crews and additional coast guard recruits of 2000. Half of these personnel in the navy consisted of conscripts.
During this era of modernization, the main naval base for training the personnel was close to Alexandria in a place called Ras at Tin. Mediterranean bases were set up at Marsa Matruh, Port Said and Port Tawfiq and Red Sea bases were set up at Bur Safajah and Al Ghardaqah. Most of the concentration of the naval fleet was in the Mediterranean and only a few fleets were stationed at the Red Sea.
In 1956, General Nasser, who had risen to Presidency after ousting monarchism through a military operation, decided to nationalize the Suez Canal. This brought on the war between Egypt and the combined forces of England and France. During this war, the naval forces attacked the British and French fleet. Although this brought on a wrath of fury from the French and British and culminated in a major war, the navy was not much involved. It was only used to trigger the conflict and the subsequent war.
In 1967, when the War of Attrition broke out between Egypt and Israel, the naval fleet was used to cause a blockade of vessels in Strait of Tiran. In October of the same year, although cease fire was already declared, a naval missile boat from the Egyptian force attacked and sank an Israeli destroyer.
The next important mission of Egypt navy took place in the 1973 October war in which, Egypt naval forces laid mines in the Gulf of Aqaba, which caused a blockage of commerce activities to Elat. In the same war, Egypt navy also tried to block Mediterranean ports belonging to Israel. The Israel forces, which always had superior intelligence and strategic planning as a strong point in their armed forces, tempted the missile crafts of Egypt to gear up for the attack. When Egypt fell to for the trap and began attacking, Israel countered the attack effectively. The gunboats of Egypt were equipped with state of the art facilities of those days and sported Gabrielle Missiles. In the bombing, rocketing and shelling that followed, both sides suffered losses but none were substantial.
The 80s brought in a new aspect into the Egypt naval force. This was the time when underwater combat planning took place. Acquisition of submarines was planned, in addition to underwater mining and anti-submarine warfare. Attention was also focused on acquiring anti-mine boats and submarines along with minesweeping, early warning systems and mine countermeasure vessels. This move was prompted by Libya in 1984, when it began underwater explorations and mining in the Red Sea.
In the 1980s, the naval wing of Egypt defense system got a huge boost because facilities for repair and maintenance of ships were initiated in the country. Workshops were set up in the country that serviced ships and fitted them with new and advanced facilities to air war fare. The major focus areas of improvement were submarines, mine sweepers, anti-submarine vessels and the latest kinds of warning systems and radars.
In order to enhance the strength and test the power of its naval forces against the forces of other countries, Egypt initiated a program called Sea Wind. As a part of this program, friendly exercises were carried out with the participating countries. Countries that participated in this exercise were France, British, Italy and the United States. This program was initiated in the late 80s and was carried out regularly.
In 1984, Egypt was commissioned two new vessels which were state of the art and sophisticated. They were provided by Spain and were frigates of the Descubierta class. Both of these missiles housed missile launching capabilities ad the missiles could cover a distance of over fifty kilometers. The vessels were also outfitted with equipment that could sense and help in anti-submarine and mine sensing operations. Harpoons SSMs were also provided in these vessels. In addition to these, the 1980s saw an influx in the vessels provided by Soviet Union, which provided four and China, which also provided four Romeo submarines. These machines were customized to accommodate MK37 torpedos and Harpoons.
A few years later, in 1989, Britain supplied two submarines of the Oberon class. After procurement, these underwent modernization in Egyptian workshops. However, the major power of Egypt navy was the Soviet Union and many of Egypt’s most powerful vessels were obtained from the Soviets. The other big supporter was China. Gradually, United States also offered support to Egypt and supplied them with some of the state of the art naval equipment and vessels.
It was in the 90s that the United States became one of the major suppliers of naval requirements to Egypt. Following this trend, Egypt navy was enriched with two frigates each of Knox class and Oliver Hazard Perry class. These developments took place in the period between 1994 and 1996. It was also during this period that Egyptian navy wanted to acquire additional Romeo class submarines in order to remove the existing ones, from China and Soviet Union. The plan for acquisition also included corvettes, patrol boats and other vessels that helped the coastal guards and the navy in their patrol operations.
In the period ranging from 1989 to 2003, the total aid received from the United States was worth $1.3 billion. Further, this aid was akin to a grant and did not require to be repaid under the Foreign Military Financing scheme. These funds were put to good use and were used to augment and enhance the strength of the naval fleet as well as seal commercial contracts with other countries for supply of goods. In the period beginning in 1994 up to 1998, the United States provided six frigates to the Egypt navy. During the same four year span, the navy acquired more vessels and the fleet boasted of frigates of various classes such as Knox and Perry. These ships were also used to augment the strength of American Navy in times of need. These vessels enhanced the protection of Egyptian land and waters p to a large extent.
After the fleet was upgraded, there arose a need to enhance the technical support for the new vehicles. In this regard, the navy was provided with a fund of $279million by the Egyptian government. The fund was used to enhance the technical protection of the fleet by acquisition of manpower and other supplies. BAV5 provided the technical support. In 1999, the Inspector General of Department of Defense Office sanctioned the use of naval funds for purposes such as hiring retired officers, commute to the United States, renovate personal offices of naval officers and for building the presidential yacht.
October 2008 is one of the most important months in the history of Egypt navy. The day is celebrated as Egyptian Armed Forces Day and the operation is known by the name of Victory 41. In all, forty four vessels, fast attack missile boats, submarines, landing ships and frigates were used in the exercise
Present of Egyptian Navy
Although the beginning of the Egyptian navy was rather insignificant, it built up enormous strength over the years in collaboration with other countries. As of now, the navy of Egypt is equipped with two hundred and twenty one crafts and ships. The present vice Admiral of the naval force is Mohab Mamish.
In the submarine division, this is the special strength of Egypt navy, the force houses four submarines of the Romeo class. These submarines are equipped with latest sonar technology, radar systems, Harpoons and air conditioning. In the frigate division, the navy consists of a number of ships, some of which are two frigates of Knox class and four frigates of Oliver Hazard Perry Class. Besides these, two Najm el Zapher class and type 053H Jianghu class and one Koni class vessels for ASW frigates and general purposes, are present.
The navy contains two El Suex class and Descubierta class missile corvettes. Four Ambassador MK III class large and fast attack vessel missiles, in addition to five OSA I class and four OSA I class are housed. In the same category, five Tiger Type 148 and six Ramadan class attack vessels are available. The coastal fast attack crafts missile wing comprises of four October class and five Hegu class vessels.
Coastal patrol boats form a very important part of Egyptian navy. In this wing, navy has ASW coastal patrol vessels such as Hainan class that are eight in number, six Shershen and four Shanohai II class vessels. Amphibious forces of the navy comprises of three medium Polnocny A class Landing ships, nine utility Vydra class and eight assault Seafox class landing crafts.
Egypt navy has always given a lot of important to underwater mines and mine related vessels. In this regard, the naval force has six T43 minesweepers, two Osprey coastal mine hunters, four Yurka fleet minesweepers, three swiftships coastal ship hunters, four Tuima class vessels that have been now converted into boats for laying mines and two swift ships inshore route survey vessels. Besides these, three underwater unmanned vessels by the name of Pluto Plus were ordered at a total cost of $10.6 million. The navy also comprises of four swift ships inshore run missiles.
In addition to these ships that are used for combat, the navy has fifteen auxiliary ships and three training ships. One each of El Horeya and El Quosseir yacht, which are historical ships of Egypt are also present.
The coast guard division has their own share of naval ships and vessels. The division has thirty patrol boats and seventy three patrol crafts. These boats and crafts not only protect the country from unfriendly external forces, but it also fights against smuggling and other illegal trades that take place through water. The effective force has been successful in busting a number of smuggling rackets and controlling illegal activities that happen through water.
Besides hosting a variety of ships, boats and crafts used for combat, Egyptian navy comprises of a myriad kinds of weaponry, which include ship to ship and ship to surface missiles and the coast guard weapons, which include surface to ship and surface to surface missiles. The missiles such as HY-1 can travel a distance of 85kn with a payload of 513kg. Other missiles in the ship to ship and surface category are the Harpoon, Exocet, Otomat Mk1 and SS-N-2a Styx. Coastal defense weapons are more powerful and have an attack range of greater distances than sea missiles. The FL-1 surface to ship and surface missile has a range of 150km with a payload of 513kg. The missiles in this category are KSR-2, which has a range of 200kms and a payload of 1000kg, Otomat MkII with a payload of 210 kg and a range of more than 180km and Exocet with a range of 180km and a payload of 165kg.
Additional bases have been added at Hurghad and Birnees. The highest post in the nay is held by the Admiral, followed by Vice Admiral, Rear Admiral, Commodore, Captain, Commander, Lieutenant Commander, Lieutenant, Sub-Lieutenant and Ensign. Egypt navy does not have an air warfare wing and takes the aid of the very powerful Egypt air force for its air warfare requirements.
Future of Egyptian Navy
The Egyptian navy has plans for development of its naval base. However, the current political upheaval has caused a lot of concerns for the future of the entire armed forces. Nevertheless, the country has made moves to upgrade the current strength by involving more western technological developments in warfare. From the initial years when Egypt began to accumulate submarines, underwater warfare became a major focus. The existing submarines are to be upgraded in the future. The existing fleet is from China and they are to be modernized with western technology.
With one of the strongest navies in the Arab world, Egypt has substantial naval forces to protect its boundaries from enemy attacks which might take place through the 2000 km of shoreline. Well equipped weapons and naval fleet will make the naval base stronger and more efficient.