Written by Ahmed Sayed exclusively for SouthFront; Edited by Brian Kalman
On the 5th of January, 2017, the Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi visited the port city of Safaga on the Red Sea and announced the establishment of the Southern Fleet. The backbone of the new fleet will be the two Mistral LHDs acquired from France. The vessel can carry up to 16 attack helicopters, 70 combat vehicles (including 17 main battle tanks) and approximately 450 marines. The vessel has a length overall (LOA) of 199 meters, a beam of 32 meters, a displacement of 22,000 tons and a cruising speed of 19 knots.
Since his inauguration, the government of el-Sisi began an ambitious plan to expand the power and scope of the capabilities of the nation’s navy. The Mistrals, a FREMM multi-purpose frigate, four Gowind 2500 Class corvettes, and four German made Type 209 diesel electric attack submarines (SSK) are at the heart of this effort. These investments exhibit an increase in coastal patrol and reconnaissance, and a marked focus on anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The FREMM frigate design is the result of a collaboration between DCNS of France and Armaris and Fincantieri of Italy, while the Gowind 2500 is a DCNS design.
Egypt leveraged its cordial and cooperative relations with both the French and Russian governments to reach an agreement to purchase both Mistral class vessels for only $750 million USD. The Egyptian government made the decision to realign its arms acquisitions from arms manufacturers in France and Russia, after relations with the United States became heavily strained after the deposing of Mohamed Morsi in the summer of 2013. The Russian government was pivotal in securing the deal between DCNS and Egypt after the French government refused to honor a contract to deliver the first two “Russian Mistrals”. In the wake of the Ukrainian crisis and the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and the resultant EU sanctions regime, France reneged on the legal contract to supply the two vessels and technical support services. The contract amounted to over $1.3 billion USD. Russian shipbuilders are currently working on a number of LHD designs to replace the Mistrals.
In fact, the Egyptian Navy requires the active support of the Russian Navy to properly learn how to use the Mistrals, as they were built to specific Russian standards, for use by Russian crews. If Egypt were to remove all of the Russian tailored systems from the vessels, the cost and extent of the refit would render the vessels useless for all practical purposes. Russia did not agree to help Egypt remove such systems, yet has agreed to sell Egypt a full complement of the Ka-52K naval attack helicopters that were originally designed to be used on the ships. The contract to build and deliver the Ka-52k helicopters includes maintenance and technical support.
In turn, the Egyptian Navy will allow Russian naval architects and technical personnel full access to the vessels in support of Russian efforts in designing and producing indigenous vessels of a similar pattern. Thus, Egypt and Russia have joined in a strategic partnership that will aid both in achieving the goal of strengthening the naval capabilities of their respective nations.
Why Purchase the Mistrals?
Why did the Egyptian leadership decide to purchase two large and complex vessels, a type that the nation’s navy has no technical or practical experience operating, especially considering that they were tailor made for the Russian Navy? On the surface the decision seems quite perplexing. As stated earlier, both Egyptian and Russian strategic interests must be considered in formulating a rational explanation for such a substantial national defense investment.
The recent discoveries of substantial natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea within Egypt’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and the desire to secure these assets, especially considering they lay between the EEZs of Egypt and Turkey, offers one insight into strengthening of Egypt’s naval power projection capabilities. Egypt was forced to negotiate a maritime demarcation agreement with both Cyprus and Greece to avoid future disputes over the rights to the natural gas, and a number of cooperative commercial agreements were signed regarding any future energy extraction endeavors.
The ongoing crisis in Libya, and the substantial support on the part of Egypt for the Libyan National Army in its fight against non-state actors and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, may one day lead to an Egyptian military intervention in Libya to preserve Egypt’s national security interests in safeguarding the country’s western border and preventing radical groups from obtaining a foothold there. Another essential reason behind the expansion of the Egyptian Navy, which explains the European support for it, is the current flow of migrants from North Africa. The EU wants to work with Egypt in a similar fashion to how it has dealt with Turkey, to limit the flow of migrants from Libya by sea. The EU would like a strong Egyptian naval presence in the southern Mediterranean to interdict migrant trafficking and to possibly play a role in returning migrants back to North Africa. In such a way, a strong Egyptian Navy will play a stabilizing factor for Europe.
Strategic Importance of the Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa is a key geographical region in controlling world maritime trade. It lies near an important global trade route, positioned at the nexus of the Strait of Aden (the southern approach to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal), the Strait of Hormuz, and their openings to the Indian Ocean. This region witnessed growing importance and military conflict in the 1980s and early 1990s, between the proxies of the USSR and the United States. The Somali strongman, President Mohamed Siad Barre, first worked with the Soviet Union in maintaining power, yet switched sides in the late 1970s to find the United States a more than willing sponsor. Siad Barre was deposed in the early 1990s when the nation was wracked with internal conflict and a number of warring factions vied for control. The power vacuum left by the breakup of the Siad dictatorship has yet to be filled, and the resulting failed state has become a haven for many Islamic terrorist groups and crime organizations that rely on kidnapping, extortion and piracy.
The current state of affairs in Somalia and its destabilizing influence on the strategically important Horn of Africa, has forced both regional and global powers to establish a foothold in the region to protect their interests. The United States, Saudi Arabia, France, China and the United Arab Emirates have all established naval bases in the area. The United States operates the largest military base in Djibouti, Camp Lemmonier, with approximately 4000 personnel assigned to the base.
The Iranian-Saudi tensions in the area, with Iran allegedly transporting weapons and ammunition to the Houthi Saleh alliance via the maritime route and Saudi Arabian naval vessels supporting the pro-Hadi coalition, have increased since the latter’s intervention in Yemen since March of 2015. Additionally, growing tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia started with Ethiopia’s construction of the Renaissance dam. The dam will reduce the supply of water from the Nile River to Egypt, and may very well lead to a humanitarian crisis in the country.
It is obvious that the current Egyptian authorities want to play a more definitive role in shaping regional and global policies effecting the region. The possession of the two Mistrals and their future use in the region will undoubtedly strengthen Egypt’s political position in dealing with global powers such as the United States, Russia and the E.U., and will restore Egypt to its traditional influential role in the region, especially considering a president that is seen as more friendly to Egypt, Donald Trump, became president in January, 2017.
Israel to Europe Pipeline Agreement, which includes the Greek and Cyprus fields. Isn’t Egypt a fully paid up member of the club?
So what happens with regards Russia kitting out the ships, or allowing their kit to be in place?
Then you have the NGOs that pick up the people traffickers and so called refugees, that come from everywhere, apart from nations in the midst of civil wars. Why do they need the Egyptian Mistrals to join the party? None of it makes sense, with regards how it all fits into the bigger picture.
Allowing the Russian electronic package to stay in place, it is possible the ships would have mixed crews, Russian and Egyptian; Russians could use the ships indirectly after being paid 4+ billion by France. Eastern half of Mediterranean becomes a Russian lake, I really do not think Egypt will help EU to stymie the refugee problem. NATO created the refugee problem by overthrowing Qadaffi, they should deal with the consequences of their actions.
Trouble is, aren’t Egypt aligned to NATO? So is that a way for NATO to get access to the ships?
Egypt is not aligned with NATO, France had two ships they were stuck with, after paying Russians 4+ billion for breech of contract, Egypt offered to buy them. The only thing NATO was interested in was for the Russians not to get these ships. At that time Egypt and Russia were not close allies. The French pretty much gave away the ships, since no one in NATO wanted them.
No kidding 750 million , what a deal . If Russia and Egypt can work together , what a big win for both of them .
AMHants “…Israel to Europe Pipeline Agreement, which includes the Greek and Cyprus fields. Isn’t Egypt a fully paid up member of the club?…”
Both Egypt and Turkey (Russia’s second largest gas customer after Germany) are not even on the planned “Pipeline” route, if it was then Israel’s fake finds would be rumbled.
The Levant Basin and the Leviathan fields are fake finds to manipulate Russia, if they were genuine, Israel would be pumping oil and gas to the MaxX with undersea pipelines already built to Cyprus, Turkey and the EU.
Egypt has gas fields for its own consumption and export to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Exports to Israel have been halted.
Gaza has gas fields which are being exploited by Israel.
Russia is a prime example of a country that is building and expanding undersea pipelines to cut out troublesome countries like Ukraine and Poland. There is talk that Turkstream pipeline work has just started, however this may be fake news.
Trump is in charge and regime change will be the final solution for Syria.
Bottom line, the Saudi Qatar pipeline will be built through Syria into Turkey and EU financed by Saudi and Qatar with Turkey as the facilitator.
The Turkstream, I believe started a couple of days ago. Russia and Turkey need to get it up and running, before others try and disrupt it from happening.
Thanks for an interesting comment.
AMHants Hopefully the Turkstream 1 start is real and genuine.
The two new crucial pipelines are Nordstream 2 and Turkstream 1 although worst case scenario, oil and gas can continue flowing via Ukraine and Belarus – Poland
Fingers crossed and for them to completely leave Ukraine and Poland out of the loop. The EU involvement with Ukraine, was all due to the gas transit pipelines and why was the Gas Princess so important to the EU?
Overall this is a good article outlining the technical aspects of the Mistral along with the Geopolitics surrounding the Egyptian arena.
To add, the Russian Art of the Deal that Trump would be proud is the Russians are making US$ Billions on the cancelled Mistral deal.
Russia was buying the Mistral for its technology and transfer shipbuilding expertise to the Russian shipyards involved in the ships’ construction.
Under the Euro 1.2 Billion – US$1.4 Billion deal, signed in 2011, France was to build two Mistral-class helicopter assault ships for Russia and transfer shipbuilding expertise to the Russian shipyards involved in the ships’ construction.
France refunded all the money for the Mistrals to Russia who got the technology and ship building expertise for free.
Aftermath: Russia Russia to Build Powerful Mistral-Style Assault Ships
Read the following Neoconservative website, published by the Council on Foreign Relations:
Russia will build its own amphibious assault ship in the wake of France refusing to sell Moscow two Mistral-class helicopter carriers.
Aftermath: Egypt Egypt Buys Mistrals; Kitting Out With Russian KA-52 & KA-52K Helicopters in a multi US$ Billion deal.
The French made vessels intended for Russia had armament, command-and-control, navigation systems, as well as radio and electronic equipment taken out in accordance with the terms of the cancellation of the sale.
The Egyptians have turned to Russia to help provide these systems, after purchasing navalized Russian Ka-52 helicopters from Moscow.
Now Cairo is seeking radio and electronic equipment worth at least US$1 Billion to equip and operationalize the carriers, amounting to a nice chunk of money for Russia.
The Israelis have probably already figured-out how they’re going to sink the two ships, and anything else near them.