In response to the deteriorating state of security in the Middle East, Egypt’s Armed Forces continually upgrade their capacities within the framework of the comprehensive development programme being carried out across all branches of the army.
The Egyptian Navy is engaged in this process at several levels, Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Navy Vice Admiral Ahmed Khaled Hassan Said told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Khaled explained why the Egyptian Navy celebrates its anniversary on 21 October. The commemoration dates back to the War of Attrition. On 21 October 1967 the Egyptian Navy carried out an attack against the largest Israeli naval vessel at the time, the destroyer INS Eilat, which had entered Egyptian territorial waters. Two attack craft equipped with anti-ship missiles engaged the Eilat and succeeded in sinking it. It was the first time in naval history that such a small naval unit had sunk such a vessel.
“It changed the concepts and strategies of naval warfare. That day was a day of pride, dignity and renewed self-confidence, not just for the Navy but for the whole Armed Forces. It was the first military action after the defeat in 1967. It delivered a stunning blow to the enemy’s arrogance and conceit. It was a military marvel by all standards.”
Since then, the Egyptian Navy has gone from strength to strength.
“We receive letters day after day from the major navies in the world, all praising the progress and development of the Egyptian Navy, its hard work and dedication, which is fully supported by Egypt’s political and military leadership.”
Development focuses on enhancing the key components of naval strength, human resources foremost among them.
“The process begins in the Navy’s education and training facilities which use the latest military curricula, pedagogic approaches and training equipment, including naval combat simulators. Many servicemen in the Navy also attend training courses abroad and take part in joint naval drills and manoeuvres to hone their skills.”
Then there is technology and equipment.
“The Navy possesses three industrial centres: the Naval Arsenal, the Egyptian Ship Repair and Building Company, and the Alexandria Shipyard Company. They operate as an integrated system that builds ships and naval equipment, ensures their technical safety and security, maintenance and repair.”
Infrastructural development has undergone significant growth.
“This is consistent with the navy’s work to increase its capacity through acquiring new ships, expand joint manufacturing programmes and upgrade maintenance and repair facilities. We have built new bases to accommodate the greater number of vessels and developed logistic supply facilities to support the new deployments necessary to provide appropriate and balanced coverage in the Mediterranean and Red Sea theatres, enabling the Navy to move as quickly as possible in any direction in the event of a threat.”
Still, he said, the Navy’s chief focus will always be on its personnel since “the individual soldier is the cornerstone of the Armed Forces’ combat readiness.”
The Navy plays a crucial role in the war against terrorism in Sinai.
“The Navy works in collaboration with other branches of the military to secure strategic, tactical and operational targets. In Sinai it plays a critical role, blocking the zone of military operations from the sea to prevent terrorist elements from escaping or any form of support from reaching the terrorists. The Navy has tightened border security in the northeast. It intercepts suspect craft. Naval frogmen use light dingies to target suspect structures along the whole of the northern coast of Sinai.”
What duties and missions does the Navy perform at the regional level?
“The Navy has undertaken many missions to safeguard the pillars of Egyptian and Arab national security. A major example is the Restoration of Hope Operation. Four Egyptian ships have been tasked with ensuring the safety of maritime traffic in the southern Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandeb, the southern gateway to the Suez Canal. Our naval servicemen have been performing their duties with great courage and under extremely arduous conditions. Our units have secured the passage of more than 45 million tons of crude oil, escorted more than 450 ships, and intercepted more than 2,000 suspect vessels. They have spent more than 70,000 hours at sea during the past four years.”
The Egyptian Navy also takes part in joint exercises with friendly nations.
“The qualitative evolution of the Egyptian Navy has elevated it from a small coast guard to one of the world’s most formidable navies. This has stimulated a growing desire among navies around the world, including the navies of the world’s greatest powers, to take part in joint drills with us.”
There is also increasingly close cooperation between the Egyptian Navy and other African navies.
“Cooperation between naval forces is one of the most important facets of the drive towards closer relations with African countries and is consistent with Egypt’s historic role at the helm of the continent and as a beacon of progress in Africa. This has been crowned by the presidential directive to use all resources of the state to support development efforts in Africa. We are contributing to the development of the capacities of African navies by helping to train their crews and offering grants to enable naval cadets to study at Egyptian military and naval academies. Egypt regularly invites naval officers from Africa to take part, as observers, in the joint drills that Egypt hosts and we also organise visits between naval delegations to promote the exchange of information and expertise.”
As with all branches of Egypt’s military, combat readiness is the key to understanding the navy’s current evolution.
“There are many challenges and threats that Egypt faces given the growth in the forces of evil in the region. We also have to meet the growing need to protect the nation’s resources and economic interests against the ambitions of other countries. It is now the Navy’s duty to protect offshore gas fields, some of which lie 100 nautical miles off the coast. This, of course, requires vessels with particular specifications.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.