Modernised Mismanagement

Egypt’s military modernisation programme can be linked to new threat perceptions and growing political ambitions. It is a nation that is increasingly looking towards the Red Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, home to newly found natural resources and a recent playground for regional actors.

There has been a tendency to trivialise Egyptian defence procurements as prestige purchases. While this is often the case, the majority of purchases are based on longstanding Armed Forces’ modernisation requirements and political needs of incumbent governments.

Criticisms of conventional arms procurements during a brutal counter insurgency campaign across Egypt are justified. But they’re unlikely to sway institutions which believe current security policies are successful and that terrorism is a temporary nuisance rather than an existential threat.

The current administration envisions a future in which the country returns to its former greatness. At the center of that future is a military that can exercise power both at home and abroad.

However, recent foreign deployments have either been symbolic or extremely limited as a result of successive administrations prioritising potential political and economic boons over security concerns, and wary of being drawn into endless quagmires.

Therein lies the contradiction; Egypt aims to flex its military muscles but doesn’t have an appetite for large scale combat operations abroad.

The token Egyptian deployment to Yemen placates Gulf partners and ensures access to the strategic Mandab Strait

Without defined requirements, modernisation has become an end in itself. Whilst some glaring decade long capability gaps have been filled they have come at the cost of overall force coherence, hedging several political actors against each other has provided multiple sources for weaponry at the expense of outright capability

An incoherent procurement strategy means Egypt is paying premiums in a time of economic hardship. The initial purchase of a single FREMM frigate was opportunistic and needlessly rushed. As a result the frigate is operating at a fraction of its capability due to stripped systems and weaponry.

The Navy was traditionally the bastard child of the Armed Forces, the Branch least favoured, confined to littoral water and operating ships either at or nearing obsolescence. To the surprise of many, it has been at the forefront of recent military modernisation initiatives.

However, there are questions over whether the expansion of the Egyptian Navy is sustainable. Power projection is an expensive enterprise and despite recent extravagant procurements the Egyptian military is cash strapped. The recent influx of capital ships and fighter jets is already putting strain on maintenance and operating budgets.

The Egyptians have been focused solely on the acquisition of new platforms seemingly without thought of how to support them throughout their life cycles or integrating them into a coherent fleet. Issues of sustainment, replacement, repair, and maintenance have either been outsourced or completely ignored. The threat to use these capabilities as a means of coercion, or their actual use operationally, is compromised when logistics matters fall by the wayside. [1]

Power projection built on a budget of debt

Thus far amphibious exercises, involving the new Mistral carriers, have focused on embarking Special Operations and mechanised Army units onto territory contested by irregular forces. Rather than create a coherent professional Marine expeditionary force the Egyptians appear content with ad-hoc arrangements comprised of incompetent conscript formations without unity of command.

As it stands, what the Egyptian Navy practicing for could be achieved by far more modest assets, some of which are already in service. By contrast, the comparatively smaller forces of the UAE have been involved in continuous combat operations across the Middle East for several years.

Modernisation and expansion will provide the Egyptian military with a greater presence in regional seas and increase its reach but will ultimately fail to provide what Cairo seeks most; credibility.


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