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The birth of Egyptian civilization on the Nile was fashioned in war, and the kingdom of the Pharaohs was maintained by military force. Over an astonishing history dating back more than five thousand years, Egypt maintained an advanced and relevant military force. In different historical stages, Egypt alway scame to prove itself as a dominant military force in the region that acquired all the characteristics of a great military power.

The army has always been the largest and most important branch of the armed forces. During each of the wars with Israel, the army had demonstrated weaknesses in command relationships and communications. Under the influence of Soviet military doctrine, higher commanders had been reluctant to extend operational flexibility to brigade and battalion commanders. Rigidity in planning was another shortcoming. Commanders reacted slowly in battlefield situations; the system did not encourage initiative among frontline officers.

The first time electronic warfare was used in the Middle East was in 1960 when the Egyptian Army moved five entire divisions into Sinai under the cloak of signal silence, completely surprising Israeli intelligence monitors who remained unaware of the big operation. Israeli intelligence has been haunted by that operation ever since, investing huge amounts of money in sophisticated signals intelligence equipment, much of it locally developed to solve the problem.

The wreckage of Egyptian columns caught by Israeli aircraft in the Mitla Pass and soldiers throwing their boots away and fleeing into the desert in 1967 are remarkable similar to the scenes of the Iraqi Army in defeat in 1991. Both ground campaigns were brief, lasting approximately 100 hours, and both left similar questions over the ability of Arab armies to cope with the modern battlefield. Prior to the June 1967 War and the Gulf War, the Egyptian and Iraqi armies were rapidly expanded without the time for any meaningful training to take place or the establishment of internal unit cohesion. This expansion seemed to be more of a political statement than a reasoned military response. In the case of both wars, the Iraqis and Egyptians entered into them carried more by emotion and faith in big numbers tan with a carefully crafted plan.

The stunning Israeli success in 1967 stemmed in part from a unique set of Egyptian failings, in large measure self-inflicted. In the three weeks prior to the war, the Egyptians changed their war plans, command structure, senior personnel, and troop deployments in ways that undermined their army's ability to fight against a powerful foe. Consequently, widespread confusion resulted throughout the Egyptian Armed Forces so that by the eve of the conflict, the senior military leadership concerned itself more about events in Cairo than those in Tel Aviv. To unravel the sinews of a vulnerable Egyptian senior command, the IDF needed only to launch a bold and imaginative campaign that seized key terrain at the outset of war and threatened a penetration into the Egyptian operational depth.

The results of the 1973 Yom Kippur War presented another image of the Arab soldier. Prior to the October 1973 War, the army made many improvements in the way it prepared officers for combat. Moreover, the complex planning that preceded the Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal and the execution of the initial attack demonstrated a high level of military competence. The Egyptians surprised the Israelis by not only being able to cross the Suez Canal, in broad daylight, but also by withstanding Israeli armor counterattacks using infantry armed with ATGMs and RPGs. The innovative engineering techniques used by the Egyptians allowed them to quickly breach the 60-foot sand berm built on the bank of the canal and move heavy armored formations across the 100-meter wide Suez Canal. Although the Egyptians would later have their bridgehead int he Sinai flanked by the Israelis and the Third Army's bridgehead in danger of being cutoff, the improvement in combat efficiency between the army of 1967 and the one of 1973 made for an interesting case study in a Arab army's ability to adapt.

Appointment of a charismatic and dynamic leader prepared the army for the retaking of the Sinai: LTG Saad El Shazly was appointed as Chief of Staff to the General Headquarters. LTG Shazly focused a great deal of effort on rebuilding the trust between officers an soldiers and laid particular emphasis on ensuring his subordinate commanders trained and developed the individual soldier; he than constantly moved among his subordinate units checking on progress. Tough realistic training with numerous live-fire exercises and extensive use of training simulators, particularly for the SAGGER ATG gunners; soldiers were encouraged to offer suggestions for improvements in techniques and equipment; one imaginative suggestion, provided by a junior officer, critical to the initial success of the operation was the use of fire hoses and high-pressure water pumps to breach the sand berm along the Suez Canal.

The Army undertook an objective assessment of the weaknesses associated with the army vis-a-vis the capabilities of the Israelis and modifying plans and training accordingly. The key component of the initial successes of the Egyptian Army was not based on technology but rather on the efforts of well-trained and motivated soldiers. Subsequent failure occurred when the Egyptians were unable to adapt to changing battlefield circumstances. They had planned for the Canal crossing, but were not properly prepared to exploit their success. When Israel launched its counterattack, the Egyptian high command reacted with hesitation and confusion, enabling Israel to gain the initiative in spite of determined Egyptian resistance.

Decision making in the army continued to be highly centralized during the 1980s. Officers below brigade level rarely made tactical decisions and required the approval of higher-ranking authorities before they modified any operations. Senior army officers were aware of this situation and began taking steps to encourage initiative at the lower levels of command.

A shortage of well-trained enlisted personnel became a serious problem for the army as it adopted increasingly complex weapons systems. Observers estimated in 1986 that 75 percent of all conscripts were illiterate when they entered the military and therefore faced serious obstacles when trying to learn how to use high-technology weaponry. Soldiers who had acquired even the most basic technical skills were eager to leave the army as soon as possible in search of higher-paying positions in the civilian sector. By United States standards, the army underutilized its noncommissioned officers (NCOs), many of whom were soldiers who had served a long time but had not shown any special aptitude. Officers with ranks as high as major often conducted training that would be carried out by NCOs in a Western army. In a move to retain welltrained NCOs, the army in the 1980s started providing career enlisted men with higher pay, more amenities, and improved living conditions.

By 2010 the Egyptian Army was implementing changes to the Officer Education System to improve the preparation of field grade officers (Majors andLieutenant Colonels) in planning and executing full spectrum operations at the tactical and operational level.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:38:26 ZULU