Due to its size, the Egyptian Navy is a significant regional power in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet for many years it was largely composed of outdated and less capable vessels left over from historic arms deals with the Soviet Union and China. This is changing rapidly, and the new submarines will be another step-change.
The third brand new Type-209/1400 class submarine arrived from its delivery voyage from Germany on May 5. A fourth boat will also be delivered, completing the order. Fittingly the three new submarines were placed at the vanguard of a celebratory naval parade. They are ‘in the van’ both literally and figuratively.
They are joining a fleet which now includes two large Mistral class helicopter carriers purchased from France. The Mistral class are the most impressive warships in North Africa. Uniquely, Egypt has simultaneously deployed both U.S.-supplied AH-64 Apache and Russian-supplied Ka-52 Nile Crocodile gunships to the ships. It is the only place on earth where these two competing designs are operated side-by-side. The Nile Crocodile is a two-seat derivative of the famous Ka-50 Hokum attack helicopter. This impressive firepower is matched by ultra-modern frigates purchased from France.
Germany is a well respected supplier of non-nuclear submarines and a dominant player in the submarine export business. Interestingly the Egyptian Navy selected to buy the older Type-209 family of submarine which were first built almost 50 years ago. This is instead of Germany’s main export offering, the Type-214. That model is already operated by neighboring navies Greece and Turkey. Or the latest Type-218 design which is just entering service with its first customer, Singapore.
Compared to these newer families the Type-209 does not come with Air Independent Power (AIP). That would have allowed the submarine to run submerged for much longer, making it harder to detect. AIP has been retrofitted to a single Type-209, Greece’s Okeanos (S-118). But it is not a standard offering on the type, and the Egyptian boats would need a complete rebuilt to incorporate it.
Egypt’s Type 209 submarine measure approximately 62 meters in length, displace 1,450 tons and have a pressure hull diameter of 6.2 meters. They are crewed by a complement of 30.
The driver for Egypt’s selection of the Type-209 family was likely cost. And although the baseline design is dated, the equipment fit of these submarines is thoroughly up to date. Details of the weapons fit are sensitive, but it is likely to include up-to-date torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.
The new subs are replacing four Chinese Type-033 Romeo Class boats. These are the last of 10 Romeos once operated, and have been extensively upgraded throughout their life. Despite their Soviet heritage (the Type-033 was a Chinese copy of the Russian Pr.633. Egypt operated both types), they are equipped with U.S. supplied Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
Another key capability which the Type-209s will take over is supporting Egypt’s naval special forces. The Romeos are fitted with external containers to support special forces. There is no sign of these yet on the Type-209s but there is evidence of a diver lock-out chamber in the sail, pointing to this role.
The new boats will keep the Egyptian Navy dominant in North Africa. Other North African navies, notably Algeria and Morocco, are also expanding their capabilities. And it will place Egypt closer to the likes of Israel, Turkey, Greece, Italy and France who all operate powerful navies in the area.
These powerful ships could be used as seabases of sorts, parking them off the coast of trouble spots on the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Arabian Sea, but that would signal a massive expeditionary shift in Egypt’s foreign policy. The addition of a pair of aircraft carriers and amphibous assault ships could provide a counter-balance against increasing Iranian influene in the region.
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