The two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships that France originally built for Russia, but chose not to sell after the invasion of the Ukraine, have been reportedly sold to Egypt. We have covered aspects of this story (here and here) but this major expansion of the Egyptian Navy begs the question of why Egypt – a country not known for a strong naval presence in either the Mediterranean or Arabian Sea – wants to spend billions of dollars for ships that it will have to find a non-historic use for?
The Egyptian government will pay over $1 billion for both ships. Unless you are dealing with ship building programs in the United States, that is a lot of money. Even if it is spread out over years, which it will be, that much money is a huge drain on Egypt’s defense budget ($7.8 billion in 2015). The Egyptian government has also agreed to buy other weapons from France, including 24 Rafale fighter jets.
The current thinking is that Egypt is buying the ships to protect its western border from Libyan-based terrorists and to protect the Suez Canal and other facilities in the Sinai Peninsula. Although the Mistral’s will help in both of those situations, it is disingenuous to believe that is the only reason. Both of those areas are within strike range of other Egyptian facilities. The Mistral’s are a power projection ship. For a country the size of Egypt, power projection like that is not necessary.
The Egyptian military is also involved in the current Yemen civil war – supporting the existing government against the Houthi rebels – and, if the Mistrals are used to support military operations outside of Egypt, it could signal that Egypt wants to expand their current international role and take a more active part in military operations in the Eastern Med and Arabian Sea.
However, by the time the Mistrals are transferred to Egypt, crews are trained, the complement of helicopters used to deploy troops are acquired and the troops themselves recruited and trained, the conflict in Yemen should have been resolved. Future actions in the region can be a factor in this decision, of course, but there seems to be little short-term gain for Egypt.
There are a lot of questions over the Egyptian decision, not the least of which is where Russia fits into the picture.
The likelihood that Egypt is buying the ships from France to turn around and sell them to Russia is low. Egypt relies on French equipment buys to keep their military competitive in the region. If Egypt acts as a middleman for Russia to get a hold of the two ships, France would be forced, by international pressure, to cancel remaining Egyptian defense contracts. This would hurt both French industry and Egyptian purchasing power.
There is a theory that I like, however. If the two ships were purchased – with financial support from Russia – and then used in the Eastern Med to shuttle Russian troops in Syria, Iraq and other areas under attack by ISIS, the Egyptians get the ships at a discount, they get to train with Russian sailors, troops and equipment as part of a coalition that includes Russia, Iraq, Syria and Iran.
The Russians get another ally in the area, the Egyptians get training and equipment to keep these specialized ships afloat and, eventually, the Egyptians become a strong international player in the region with backing from both Russia and France.
All for a little over a billion bucks.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.