The deterioration in the state of security in the Middle East — the proliferation of conflicts and their effects on Egyptian and Arab national security — motivated plans to upgrade the navy’s armaments systems, strengthen its combat efficacy and introduce the latest educational and training programmes for its personnel.
As part of the development process new naval bases have been constructed to allow the rapid deployment of forces in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and the Alexandria Shipyard has become a base for the manufacture of weapons.
Al-Ahram Weekly spoke with Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Navy Vice Admiral Ahmed Khaled Hassan Said about the navy’s plans to consolidate its weapons systems and expand local shipbuilding.
Vice Admiral Ahmed Khaled Hassan Said, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian navy
Why was 21 October chosen as Navy Day 51 years ago?
On 21 October 1967 the Armed Forces General Command instructed the navy to engage the largest Israeli naval vessel at the time, the destroyer INS Eilat.
The ship had entered Egyptian territorial waters, an action the Israelis intended to signal their military superiority. Two fast attack craft (FAC) equipped with anti-ship missiles were ordered to engage the Eilat and succeeded in sinking it.
There are two reasons why the date was chosen as Naval Day, First, the attack was carried out three months after the 1967 defeat rocked Egypt and the Arab world.
It was a period of anguish and despair. Some heroic action was needed to lift the morale of our troops and revive confidence in the Armed Forces.
Second, the Eilat’s sinking was a landmark in modern 20th century naval warfare. It was the first time in international naval history that a surface-to-surface missile was used and its success transformed naval tactics worldwide.
The navy has made a quantum leap in armaments in recent years. Has the navy contracted any new combat systems in the framework of its strategy to diversify weapons sources?
In light of the proliferation of regional conflicts and the accompanying deterioration in Egyptian and Arab national security the General Command of the Armed Forces formulated plans to increase the capabilities of the navy and purchase the most up-to-date combat and technical equipment.
Among the navy’s latest acquisitions are two Mistral-class helicopter carriers, a FREMM Aquitaine-class frigate and the Russian-made Molniya-class fast missile craft.
These represent a qualitative leap for the Egyptian navy, making it one of the largest fleets in the Mediterranean. It has the capacity to safeguard national interests at home and abroad, to deter anyone who contemplates threatening these interests.
What does the building in the Alexandria Shipyard of the Port Said, a Gowind-class corvette, mean for the navy?
The political leadership is keen to develop our heavy naval industries, as evidenced by the upgrading of the Alexandria Shipyard which is operated by the Armed Forces Naval Industries Authority. The aim is to ensure the navy’s equipment keeps pace with the latest scientific and technological developments.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated the shipyard in May 2015 and the navy has already begun building ships using Egyptian manpower. We have a two-phase strategy.
First comes joint manufacture at Egyptian shipyards in partnership with allied nations. Fast craft of various classes have been built, and we are in the process of building three Corvettes in collaboration with France.
The second phase to manufacture ships using Egyptian manpower exclusively. So far tankers, tugboats and escort vessels have been built and we are working towards a future in which all naval manufactures are homemade.
The navy has recently performed missions to protect the home front and safeguard national security at home and abroad. Can you elaborate?
The navy, in collaboration with the other branches of the Armed Forces, is responsible for carrying out numerous tasks to protect the home front.
The tasks vary. They include protecting Egypt’s 22 ports around the clock, maintaining the order of maritime traffic, securing territorial waters, preventing incursions along our coasts, stopping arms and drug smuggling, combating illegal migration, safeguarding maritime communication routes and commercial shipping lanes, protecting vital installations along the coast and offshore oil and gas fields and conducting patrols and rescue operations in the event of disasters and other crises.
The navy is also taking part in Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018 (COS 2018) which aims to rid the Sinai of terrorist bases and takfiri elements.
Since 2011 the navy has also helped secure polling stations.
What role does the navy play in COS 2018?
The navy helps safeguard strategic, tactical and deployment targets on all fronts and in all areas. Its role in COS 2018 includes isolating the theatre of operations from the direction of the sea, preventing the flight of terrorists by sea and preventing support from reaching them by staging board and search operations of suspect ships in Egyptian territorial and nearby waters.
These activities are carried out in full coordination with the other branches of the Armed Forces and under the Armed Forces General Command.
The navy has taken part in many joint training exercises with allied states. What benefits derive from these exercises?
The Egyptian navy’s place among the leading navies of the world and as the largest naval force in the Middle East means many countries are eager to carry out joint exercises with Egypt.
The drills help participants perfect the execution of various tasks and hone the skills of participants, familiarising them with the latest developments in training techniques and armament systems.
Participants gain experience in different maritime environments and are able to study the effects of various environmental factors, including climate, on weapons and equipment.
Our naval forces have taken part in joint exercises with many countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Greece, France, the US, Russia and Jordan.
How does the navy contribute to ending the dangers posed by illegal migration and how does it apprehend people smugglers?
Illegal migration is a relatively new phenomenon. The navy, in collaboration with all relevant governmental agencies — Border Guard Forces and Military Intelligence — has succeeded in apprehending numerous smugglers and foiled attempts to smuggle illegal migrants to Europe.
In surprise board and search operations the navy has caught many ships in the act of smuggling drugs, arms and other merchandise. Detainees are handed to the relevant authorities to take appropriate legal measures.
What are Egypt’s manufacture, repair and technical support capabilities for naval vessels?
The navy operates three major facilities, the Arsenal, the Egyptian Ship Repair and Building Company and the Alexandria Shipyard Company.
The three function as an integrated system that has the capacity to provide technical security, maintenance and repair services for ships.
They have also acquired a manufacturing capacity after they were upgraded in accordance with international technical standards and with the support of the Armed Forces General Command.
They have already begun to manufacture port patrol and tugboats.
Allied countries have cooperated to the development through the transfer of technology, as is the case with the Gowind-class corvettes being built with French collaboration.
How do you see the future of the navy?
Work in progress includes the construction of new naval bases in order to facilitate more rapid deployment of naval forces in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and more naval hardware will be built at the navy’s shipyard in Alexandria.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Navigating turbulence