The Egyptian Armed Forces in 2022 solidified their high ranking among the top 20 armies in the world while acquisitions kept pace with international military and technological developments. In addition to receiving shipments in accordance with previously concluded arms contracts, Egypt signed new deals, with a focus on those with a high-tech component.
But the army also expanded its developmental role in collaboration with the civilian sector, which has included a growing interest in developing academic partnerships with Egyptian universities and research centres. The Armed Forces have simultaneously continued to pursue joint manufacturing projects with countries with major military industrial establishments in keeping with the priority of indigenising defence manufactures and technologies. In this regard, it has found a promising realm of expansion into cyber security and the incorporation of artificial intelligence into weapons design.
Naturally, the Armed Forces sustained its regimen of periodic drills and exercises, which it conducted as part of its own training and skills enhancement programmes, or jointly with regional and international partners. Also, Egyptian military diplomacy remained as active as ever through such mechanisms as military aid in materiel and training, relief services and communications, and exchanges of visits at various levels. In this regard, Egypt has shown a growing interest in exploring regional security arrangements.
In terms of its basic defence functions, the Armed Forces followed up on its progress in the fight against terrorism, building on its achievements in the framework of the Comprehensive Operation Sinai which it launched in 2018. It has also continued to exchange expertise with international partners in counterterrorism. Official statistics last year reflect the EAF’s growing ability to counter outside threats, secure borders, and fight organised crime and other illegal cross-border activities in collaboration with other concerned parties.
The armaments programme in 2022 reflected three main processes: the ongoing diversification of sources in tandem with a surge in the Egyptian-US partnership in armaments, strategic partnerships in joint defence manufactures with major defence producers such as Germany and South Korea with an eye towards military technology transfer, and the development of the national industrial base, especially in such qualitative fields as strategic and precision military manufactures.
The diversification of armament sources is a cornerstone of the Egyptian defence architecture. It is governed by a comprehensive plan that is continuously revised and updated on the basis of need for the various formations of the Armed Forces, the latest advances in weapons systems, and the environment of potential theatres of operations.
Egypt is not alone in this. Diversification is a strategy pursued by armed forces around the world. The aim is not political, as was often the case when the world was divided into eastern and western camps. Rather, the idea is to find the best sources for the types of weapons the Egyptian Armed Forces needs, with the most suitable specifications and the most favourable contractual terms. This takes into account that the countries that produce sophisticated high-tech weapons are keen to ensure that the armies that acquire them are properly equipped to use them and, perhaps, have a clear vision of how they might be put to use.
In 2022, Washington announced its approval of two arms deals with Egypt worth $2.56 billion; one for 12 C-130J Super Hercules multipurpose transport planes and the other for three SPS-4 air defence systems. Washington stated that Egypt’s acquisition of these weapons would improve its defence capacities against current and future threats by furnishing air support for its forces through the transport of supplies, equipment, and personnel. The US further justified the sales on the grounds of its close bilateral relationship with Cairo. A State Department communiqué of 28 January 2022 described Egypt as a major ally outside of NATO and an important strategic partner of the US in the Middle East.
On 18 October, Egypt received delivery of the German-made MEKO A-200 class frigate, which it dubbed Al-Aziz. Built by the TKMS Company in Germany’s SBN arsenal, the ship arrived in Alexandria’s shipyard on 2 November where the Egyptian flag was raised on board. This acquisition, the first of four MEKO A-200s, epitomises the criteria Egypt applies in its arms acquisitions, such as high quality, appropriate delivery schedules, suitable payment terms, and the availability of spare parts.
Egypt has also expanded joint defence manufacturing ventures, an area where it has had remarkable success in recent years. In February 2022, Egypt and South Korea signed a $1.6 billion deal for the joint manufacture of the K9A1 EGY howitzer, making Egypt the first African country and the ninth country in the world to obtain the licence to manufacture this important defence system with the South Korean Hanwha Defence firm. Then, at the beginning of December 2022, Egypt and South Korea agreed to jointly manufacture a military training aircraft. Egypt was represented in this deal by the Arab Organisation for Industrialisation (AOI) while Korea Aerospace Industries represented South Korea.
INTENSIVE MILITARY EVENTS: The Armed Forces pursued a full gamut of activities in 2022 as part of its ongoing capacity-raising efforts as well as a part of military diplomacy. Materiel, alone, is not sufficient to equip an army to fulfil its basic functions; attention to the quality of personnel is vital. Egypt thus continued regular training and skills development programmes, focusing on tasks central to Egyptian national security such as border defence, counterterrorism, fighting cross-border organised crime and protecting Egypt’s coastlines and economic waters. The latter is an area in which the Egyptian navy has expanded its efforts since the discovery of large underwater natural gas fields leading to major maritime border agreements with other Eastern Mediterranean countries.
Periodic reports on the state of security in Egypt’s national security zone show considerable progress in combating and reducing cross-border threats. Of course this is an area in which work is never complete. If this applies to all countries, for Egypt it is all the more the case in light of the instability that continues to grip certain neighbouring countries.
This year, as part of its efforts to address cross-border threats, Egypt created the Unified National Network with the aim of filling any gaps in border monitoring and surveillance.
Although terrorism in Egypt has declined, as indicated in both national and international reports, the Armed Forces must still preserve what it has achieved in this domain, especially given the ongoing conflicts and upheavals in the region and the resurgence of terrorist organisations. The Tactical Command Centres Project (Samoud-1 and 2) that was carried out east of the Suez Canal during 2022 is an expression of this priority. On the whole, the army’s counterterrorism forces have become increasingly adept at eliminating commanders of militant jihadist cells and organisations.
Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018 is a two-pronged operation, the second major component being the economic development of Sinai to eliminate environments conducive to extremist thought. The Armed Forces completed many projects in this context during the foregoing year. In addition to important infrastructural projects in North Sinai, it fostered various economic projects to create job opportunities and to encourage young people from the Nile Valley and the Delta to relocate to the economically upcoming areas in Sinai, alleviating congestion in the Nile Valley and reducing the informal economic sector. In Sinai, an informal economy had once thrived on the tunnels between Sinai and Gaza that have since been closed down. The reconstruction of Gaza, which Egypt is also undertaking, is a strategic extension of the developmental component of Egypt’s national security philosophy.
2022 was also a year of further growth in Egypt’s exchange of expertise and joint training activities with its regional and international partners. This applies, above all, to Egyptian-US cooperation, which is indicative of the increasingly close bilateral relationship and the convergence of their views on the strategic threats in this region. In like manner, the joint manoeuvres Egypt conducts with European and Eastern Mediterranean countries, most notably France, Greece and Cyprus, reflect the growing military cooperation with these partners. It is noteworthy that more and more regional partners from the Gulf to Africa are participating in these activities as observers, which is a sign of the awareness of the need for broad-based partnerships in regional and international security, especially in the realm of safety of the seas and the protection of maritime trade routes. If much of the focus of recent activities has been on the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea has received a commensurate share of attention in light of the critical importance of the maritime routes in that strategic region to regional and international powers.
The primary aim of joint exercises is to strengthen the skills of participant forces and their interoperability in the performance of essential security tasks and missions. In this framework, the Armed Forces has also continued its schedule of exercises and exchange of expertise with African and Arab partners. The growing mutual defence cooperation in the Gulf, in particular, underscores the priority Egypt’s national security vision attaches to that sphere. If the bilateral and multilateral training activities there do not intersect with international undertakings, they address the same types of threats. It is also important to bear in mind that the activities in the Gulf take into account structural changes in regional security due to the US’ lower profile in the region and the consequent need for closer cooperation between Egypt and its partners in the Gulf and elsewhere in sustainable security arrangements.
Another important principle informs Egypt’s security vision at the level of international cooperation. While Egypt is eager to help strengthen regional security as an essential component of its national security, it remains determined to avoid involvement in conflicts abroad. Indeed, it strives as much as possible to help settle disputes and restore peace. This said, the hope of resolving major conflicts in the region in the short to mid-term are slim, which means that Egypt must continue to closely monitor and keep pace with the constantly mutating threats from conflict zones.
MILITARY DIPLOMACY: This is an integral component of Egypt’s foreign policy and crucial to the preservation of peace and security and the attainment of national interests. In addition to the various defence cooperation agreements and protocols Egypt concludes with foreign partners, other important types of cooperation have begun to gain momentum, especially in the realm of research and development. For example, the Armed Forces’ Centre for Medical Research and Regenerative Medicine (ECRRM) signed a contract this year with the American-based CEMEX firm to establish an International Centre for Stem Cell Research and Treatment, which will help support the development of an integrated medical system and the provision of advanced medical services in Egypt. The new centre will include the Research and Development Centre, the Clinical Trials Unit and a Biomaterials Production Unit. In addition, the ECRRM, in collaboration with the German Askion and Egyptian Miralab companies, established the first ever fully automated biobank in Egypt, the Middle East and Africa.
In the framework of emergency services, Egypt and Greece signed a memorandum of understanding in November to integrate aerial and naval search and rescue operations. Egypt has also stepped up its emergency relief diplomacy, coming to the aid of friendly nations in times of need. For example, Egypt sent two planes with urgent medical assistance to Tanzania in January 2022. In August it sent a plane to southern Libya to evacuate the victims of the Bint Baya tanker truck accident and transport them to the Armed Forces Hospital for treatment. Also in August, the Armed Forces created an emergency relief air bridge to Sudan to help victims of the flash floods across the country. More recently, Egypt sent medical assistance to Lebanon to help bring a sudden cholera outbreak under control.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly