Two and a half years after the inauguration of the Mohamed Naguib Military Base near Alexandria, one of the largest in Africa and the Middle East, Egypt has inaugurated another major military base in the south, the Barnis Military Base.
At the same time it launched the Mohamed Naguib Base, Egypt also restored and expanded the Sidi Barrani Base in the northwest of the country. Together, the three bases cover strategic directions, using the latest international armaments systems to secure borders, safeguard Egypt’s economic waters and keep the interior of the country safe.
As President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated the Barnis Base, an event attended by Arab and foreign leaders, most notably UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Egyptian army conduced a major military drill. Kader 2020, as it was code-named, is a comprehensive strategic manoeuvre engaging all branches of the Armed Forces and some of the most sophisticated weapons in the Egyptian arsenal. Kader comes on the heels of two successive drills in the Mediterranean. The greater frequency of military drills and exercises is a response to heightened tensions in the region, especially the recent military escalation in Libya which poses a direct threat to Egypt’s national security.
The construction of the Barnis base in record time adds to the Egyptian Armed Forces' list of accomplishments. It is a concrete proclamation of the army’s preparedness for all missions assigned in the southern region.
Barnis is a comprehensive base in that it serves all branches of the Armed Forces. Strategically, it aims to secure and protect Egypt's southern coasts, safeguard Egypt’s economic investment and natural wealth in that area, respond to security challenges in the Red Sea, and safeguard international maritime traffic in the vital corridor between the Bab Al-Mandeb and the Suez Canal. All of these are goals enumerated in Egypt’s Vision 2030 development plan. The new base also consolidates Egypt’s ranking among the top armies of the world.
Situated on 150,000 acres of land east of Aswan on the Red Sea coast near Egypt’s southern border Barnis includes a naval base, an air base, a state-of-the-art military hospital, accommodation facilities for different combat units, administrative buildings and training and target practice fields. There is also a 1,200 metre long wharf for commercial shipping with administrative and service buildings, a passenger arrivals and departure hall, multipurpose piers, storage piers and container piers. The area is served by the International Barnis Airport, a water desalinisation plant and a complete road and transportation network.
Held in tandem with preparations to inaugurate the Barnis Base, Kader 2020 was effectively a drill to operationalise the massive military structure. The director of the Armed Forces Training Authority summed up the organisational strategy behind the drill. It was "conceived in light of current and anticipated threats and hostilities, the strategic distribution of the Armed Forces, the lack of regional and international stability, and mounting combat activities” in the region. It was also a response to “limited operations carried out by hostile elements from a certain country bent on damaging the vital interests of the state while continuing to furnish logistic support in order to intensify terrorist activities in the northeastern direction”.
In response the Armed Forces General Command decided "to carry out a partial strategic mobilisation in order to perform a limited operation to eliminate all threats and hostilities in all strategic directions, to secure international borders and assert the army's full control over the Red Sea and Mediterranean theatres, and to safeguard international maritime routes and Egypt's sources of wealth. The manoeuvre was planned in several stages”.
One stage of the manoeuvres featured an Egyptian Air Force display over the new base. Different formations of combat aircraft performed various aerial protection tasks involving simulated reconnaissance missions and ground coverage operations. The tasks profiled the capacities of recent additions to the arsenal such as the MiG-29 and Rafale.
Strategic transport aircraft also carried out a number of tasks. While combat aircraft tend to get the lion's share of attention transport planes are crucial to the performance of crucial missions such as aerial and amphibian landings, supplying munitions and medical evacuation.
Aerial refuelling has also become an important part of aerial combat activities. The ability to refuel combat aircraft in the course of a mission extends their tactical range. Kader 2020 featured drills in aerial refuelling as well a display of assorted attack helicopters, including Apaches, Kamovs and Chinooks.
Designed and built in record time, and meeting the highest international standards for international airports, Barnis sits on a 9,600 m2 plot of land and is equipped with 3,650 m long and 45 m wide runways, a 600 passenger terminal, a 58-metre high control tower and the full range of administrative, technical and service facilities. The new international airport is economically important in view of the tourist potential of this unique portion of Egypt’s Red Sea coast.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.