On 12 May Egypt received the first shipment of armoured vehicles from the US. The US Embassy in Cairo featured an article on its official website on the details of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, designed to protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines and other forms of attacks.
Thursday’s delivery was “the first batch of a total of 762 MRAP vehicles that the United States is transferring to Egypt,” the article reported.
“Originally designed to support United States military operations in Afghanistan, MRAPs provide enhanced levels of protection to soldiers and are proven to save lives.”
“The delivery of these MRAPs to Egypt provides a crucial capability needed during these times of regional instability and is part of the continuing strong relationship between the US and Egypt,” said Major General Charles Hooper, the US embassy’s senior defence official in Cairo.
The website explained that the shipment of the MRAPs “is part of the US Department of Defence’s excess defence articles grant program, in which the vehicles are transferred at no cost to the government of Egypt.”
“This delivery is the most recent step taken by the US government in support of Egypt’s fight against terrorism and is part of a broad range of military cooperation initiatives between the two countries.”
Also last week, Egyptian Defence Minister Sedky Sobhy met with Vice Admiral Joseph Rixey, director of the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).
The DSCA oversees contractual arrangements for armaments and defence assistance abroad, for which it is required to gain congressional approval.
“The military ties that bind Egypt and the US are moving towards closer cooperation and coordination in the coming period,” said Sobhy, according to a press release issued by the Egyptian army following the meeting.
Vice Admiral Rixey expressed his gratitude to the Egyptian army for the efforts they have exerted to preserve stability in the region and said the US hopes to increase the scope of military cooperation between the two countries’ armed forces.
The meeting took place as arrangements were being finalised for the arrival of the MRAP shipment to Alexandria. A day after the delivery, on 13 May, the DSCA website reported that the US State Department had approved a possible sale to Egypt of a number of UGM-84L Harpoon Block II Encapsulated Missiles, manufactured by Boeing. The estimated cost of the deal is $143 million. The report added that the DSCA has already notified Congress of the possible sale.
MRAPS, the specifications
MRAP vehicles were designed to withstand attacks by IEDs, landmines and other explosive devices. The V-shape hull and raised chassis are designed to deflect explosive forces.
The body of the vehicle and glass are heavily armoured and explosive resistant. The vehicles are designed to operate efficiently in extreme environments and rugged mountainous or desert terrains.
In 2007, the US Defence Department allocated $50 billion for the production of 27,000 MRAPs of which 10,000 were produced in the first year.
Hossam Ibrahim, a researcher specialising in US affairs, says both Cairo and Washington “are moving to strengthen partnership and cooperation in the fight against terrorism.”
“Washington wants Egypt to achieve real success against the extremist organisations in the Sinai. There is a trend in strategic and security thinking in the US that believes that, while Cairo has a clear vision and is determined and serious in its fight against terrorism, it tends to handle the campaign against terrorist organisations in the framework of conventional warfare.”
Fixed roadblocks, checkpoints and similar measures are manifestations of this conventional approach, which is no longer appropriate given the “qualitative shift in the direction of unconventional security threats.” The MRAP, said Ibrahim, signals a necessary move in the direction of non-conventional means of confrontation.
So is there is a link between the armament consignments and the restructuring of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Sinai?
Ibrahim believes it is more useful to view the deal not in terms of a military purchase by Egypt but in terms of what it means in the framework of the fight against terrorism in which Washington is keen to see major progress.
“It should be viewed as part of the process of military cooperation between the two countries which is itself a facet of the political evolution of Egyptian-US relations in the post-30 June Revolution period.”
A senior military official told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Ministry of Defence had earlier explored the acquisition of advanced mine detection equipment from countries that cooperate militarily with Egypt but was unable to find what it was looking for. Most terrorist operations in Sinai use roadside mines, IEDs and other such explosives. Such attacks have become a major threat to military personnel and equipment, and the army was eager to acquire the best possible protection.
Military experts view military cooperation between Cairo and Washington independently from political relations, which have had their ups and downs in recent years. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and political and military leaders from both sides have all described the two countries’ military relations as “strategic.”
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly