Egypt Gains Edge with New Helicopter Carriers, But Smart Infrastructure Lacking

This week, Egypt took possession of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers it will receive from France as part of a $1 billion deal.
Since no other navy in the Middle East or the Persian Gulf has such large and advanced warships, the Egyptian navy is likely to become the strongest in the region and the main naval force capable of dealing with Islamic terrorist groups, whose desert bases are enclosed by four seas, as well as strongly ramping up the regional Arab-Israeli effort to curb Iran’s marine expansion.
The highly versatile French amphibious assault ship, equipped with state-of the-art radar navigation and missile defense systems, can carry 16 helicopters, 13 AMX Leclerc tanks plus a battalion of 40 Leclerc tanks and 450 soldiers. It has four landing barges and a 69-bed hospital.
The Mistral’s aviation features are comparable to those of the US Wasp-class amphibious assault vessels, except that they don’t support fixed-wing aircraft.
The ship has been named the Gamal Abdel Nasser after the late Egyptian president.
Egypt received the Mistral in a ceremony in Saint-Nazaire in western France. During the ceremony, Egypt’s Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi said the carrier provides “advanced capabilities in confronting terrorism within our borders and on our shores.” He added, “It increases our combat capabilities and our ability to carry out long-term missions at sea.”
France had built the carriers for Russia but the contract was cancelled in 2014, so they were sold to Egypt instead, with Saudi Arabia footing the bill. The second helicopter carrier, called the Anwar Sadat, honoring the president who signed a historic peace treaty with Israel, is to be delivered in September.
The Islamist terrorists operate from desert bases bordering on the sea, such as the Sinai Peninsula, which is accessible from the Mediterranean to the west and the Gulf of Aqaba to the east; the Arabian Peninsula which can be reached from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden; and from lairs in the Sahara and Shale deserts near the North African Mediterranean coast.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that under secret understandings between Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, their naval and air forces will cooperate in action against Iran, terrorist groups, and Middle Eastern arms smuggling networks.
The Mistrals are assigned to be part of a quadrilateral force for blocking the Iranian fleet’s expansion in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, and the central and eastern Mediterranean.
Besides protecting the Suez Canal and Egypt’s coasts and ports, the Egyptian helicopter carriers will be able to rapidly transport forces to areas in the region where they are needed.
Just last week, DEBKA Weekly 714, uncovered the establishment of an Israeli early warning station in Eritrea that will be linked to the commands of the Saudi and Egyptian fleets. Our military sources now report that the station is also due to link up with the new helicopter carriers.
Their integration into the multinational force set up for multiple duties will take time.
The Egyptian military has no experience in operating such advanced warships. The navy, air force and general staff do not have the smart infrastructure for such advanced communication networks to ensure the smooth operation of the carriers. The military also lacks the logistical and technological infrastructure suitable for such large and advanced warships. All of those infrastructures will need to be established before the ships can assume the roles set for them.

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