Although the navy was the smallest branch of the military, it is large by Middle Eastern standards. After some years of neglect, in the 1980s the navy was in the process of modernization. The navy's diverse and challenging missions included protection of more than 2,000 kilometers of coastline on the Mediterranean and Red seas, defense of approaches to the Suez Canal, and support for army operations. The navy had been built mostly with Soviet equipment during the 1960s but in the early 1980s acquired a number of vessels from China and Western sources.
In 1989 the navy had 18,000 personnel, not including 2,000 members in the Coast Guard. Three-year conscripts accounted for about half of the personnel. Principal bases were at Alexandria (Al Iskandariyah), Port Said, and Marsa Matruh on the Mediterranean Sea, at Port Tawfiq (Bur Tawfiq) near Suez, and at Al Ghardaqah and Bur Safajah on the Red Sea. Some fleet units were stationed in the Red Sea, but the bulk of the force remained in the Mediterranean. Navy headquarters and the main operational and training base were located at Ras at Tin near Alexandria.
The Egyptian navy was only peripherally involved in the series of conflicts with Israel. During the 1956 War, Egyptian destroyers and torpedo boats engaged larger British vessels in a move aimed at undermining the amphibious operations of the British and French. The Egyptian blockade of ships in the Strait of Tiran that were headed toward Israel helped precipitate the June 1967 War, but Egypt's navy played only a minor role in the overall conflict. The navy's most significant action occurred in October 1967, a few months after the cease-fire, when an Egyptian missile boat sank one of Israel's two destroyers in Egyptian territorial waters off Port Said.
In the October 1973 War, Egypt blocked commercial traffic to Elat in the Gulf of Aqaba by laying mines; it also attempted to blockade Israeli ports on the Mediterranean. When Israel succeeded in enticing Egyptian missile craft into action, Israeli gunboats equipped with superior Gabriel missiles sank a number of Egyptian units. Both navies shelled and carried out rocket attacks against each other's shore installations, but neither side experienced any extensive damage.
Egypt maintained satisfactory operational standards for older ships at its own naval workshops and repair facilities; many ships were outfitted at these facilities with newer electronic equipment and weapons. During the 1980s, the navy focused on upgrading submarine and antisubmarine warfare, improving minesweeping capabilities, and introducing early-warning systems. Libya's mining of the Red Sea in 1984 focused attention on the need to protect shipping lanes leading to the Suez Canal and the need for more advanced mine countermeasure vessels. The navy periodically tested its effectiveness during joint operations with friendly foreign fleets. Egypt regularly carried out exercises with French and Italian naval units and with ships of the United States Sixth Fleet in a series known as "Sea Wind." Exercises were also scheduled to be held with Britain in 1990.
The navy's main operational subdivisions were the destroyer, submarine, mine warfare, missile boat, and torpedo boat commands. The most up-to-date combat vessels of the navy were two Descubierta-class frigates built in Spain and commissioned in 1984. The frigates were equipped with Aspide missiles and Stingray torpedoes for antisubmarine operations and with Harpoon SSMs. The navy commissioned two Chinese frigates of the Jianghu class in the same period. The navy had ten Romeo-class submarines, of which eight were operational, four provided by the Soviet Union and four by China. Four of the submarines were undergoing modernization in an Egyptian shipyard under contract with an American firm. Modernization included refitting the vessels so they could fire Harpoon SSMs and Mk 37 torpedoes. In 1989 Egypt purchased two Oberon-class submarines from Britain. These submarines would require refitting and modernization before entering Egyptian service. Most of the navy's considerable fleet of fast-attack craft armed with missiles or torpedoes came from the Soviet Union or China. The most modern of these craft, however, were six Ramadan-class missile boats built in Britain in the early 1980s and mounted with Otomat SSMs.
The Coast Guard was responsible for the onshore protection of public installations near the coast and the patrol of coastal waters to prevent smuggling. Its inventory consisted of about thirty large patrol craft (each between twenty and thirty meters in length) and twenty smaller Bertram-class coastal patrol craft built in the United States.
The navy lacked its own air arm and depended on the air force for maritime reconnaissance and protection against submarines. The air force's equipment that supported the navy included twelve Gazelle and five Sea King helicopters mounted with antiship and antisubmarine missiles. In mid-1988 the air force also took delivery of the first of six Grumman E-2c Hawkeye aircraft with search and side-looking radar for maritime surveillance purposes.
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