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.
Egypt has taken a number of steps to improve its navy. As part of its inculcation of Western technology, the navy holds joint maneuvers with units of the American, French, British and Italian navies. Egypt focused on upgrading the Egyptian fleet of eight submarines acquired from China. Egypt has modernizing four Chinese-built Romeo class submarines with improved weapon systems including Harpoon missiles, fire control systems and sonars.
The Egyptian Navy began benefiting from US assistance in 1994-96, receiving two Knox-class frigates from the US Navy, and two Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. Two more Perry-class ships were under discussion for transfer in early 1996. The Navy was, in early 1996, contemplating how to acquire two conventional submarines from the West to replace and/or supplement the PRC-built Romeo-class boats now in service. As well, the Navy was contemplating the introduction of a new class of large patrol boats, or small corvettes, of some 75m in length, able to sustain the major part of the Navy's patrol duties.
Egypt leased two former US navy Knox class missile frigates and receiveed 10 ex-US Navy Seasprite ASW helicopters upgraded to SH-2G(E) standards. Between 1989 and 2003, the US Congress has appropriated $1.3 billion annually in nonrepayable Foreign Military Financing grants to Egypt. The Egyptian government used those funds to procure defense articles and services through commercial contracts or the Foreign Military Sales program. Between 1994 and 1998, the Egyptian government purchased six frigates from the U.S. Government under the Foreign Military Sales program using Foreign Military Financing funds.
From 1994 through 1998, the Egyptian government purchased two Knox-class and three Perry-class frigates3 for a total of $165.6 million from the U.S. Government under the Foreign Military Sales program. The Knox-class frigates were built in the 1970s and are steam boiler powered. The Perry-class frigates were built in the 1980s and are diesel turbine driven. Additionally, in September 1996, the U.S. Government gave one additional Perry-class frigate to the Egyptian government through a grant. The Egyptian Navy used those frigates to patrol the Mediterranean Sea, protect the Suez Canal, and participate in combined exercises with the U.S. Navy.
To support and maintain the six frigates, the Egyptian Navy purchased follow-on technical support. FMF funds financed five Foreign Military Sales cases. In February 2003, a NAVSEA official stated that over $279 million had been disbursed for follow-on technical support provided by BAV5 (Contractor) as well as materials, supplies, and personnel provided by the U.S. Navy under those five cases.
The U.S. Navy hired a contractor to provide technical support for the transferred ships and tasked contract employees to perform additional work on the Egyptian presidential yacht in 1999. An audit was performed in response to a complaint made to the Defense Hotline that alleged mismanagement of the Foreign Military Financing funds used for the Egyptian Navy Frigate program. Specifically, the complainant alleged that funds were inappropriately spent to (1) hire retired Egyptian Navy officers, (2) rebuild personal office space, (3) pay for trips to the United States, and (4) work on the Egyptian presidential yacht. The Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General determined that Naval Sea Systems Command approved the use of Foreign Military Financing funds to hire retired Egyptian Navy officers, to rebuild office space, and for trips to the United States; however, those actions were not inappropriate.
The Egyptian presidential yacht (Presidential Yacht) was commissioned in England in 1865 as the royal yacht for the Khedive Ismail of Egypt. In 1879, the ship ferried Khedive Ismail into exile as it would King Farouk in 1952. The Presidential Yacht is officially still in service in the Egyptian Navy. US Navy officials who have seen the ship identified it as a museum piece and a pleasure boat of state used mainly for Presidential parties. In 1999, NAVSEA authorized the use of at least $645,480 in FMF funds to replace sets of boiler tubes on the Egyptian presidential yacht. NAVSEA justified that expense as an opportunity to provide on-the-job training to three Egyptian workers. While those actions appear to fall outside the overall intent of FMF and the Contract, they were not directly prohibited. Since completing work on the Egyptian presidential yacht, NAVSEA has tightened program controls that should lessen the probability of incurring similar charges for work of a questionable nature.
The Egyptian Navy has chosen the 60m, diesel-powered Ambassador Mk.III fast missile patrol craft; construction of the boats began in Spring 2001. Under the contract, Egypt would provide key weapons and sensors for the boats. Egypt already had the Ambassador patrol craft in service, but the new boats would contain an update in design meant to make the vessels more resistant to radar detection. The design was conducted with the assistance of Lockheed Martin.
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