Egypt's New Modern Submarine Fleet

The inauguration of Egypt's new Type-209/1400 submarine marks another step in the modernization of the country's submarine fleet. Dr. Shaul Shay on the new submarine and Egypt's investment in enhancing its submarine fleet. An Egyptian strategic response to regional challenges?

Egyptian Navy forces officials at the inauguration of the new Submarine in Hamburg, Germany (Photo: Egyptian official spokesperson Facebook page)

The commander of Egypt's naval forces, Rear Admiral Osama Mounir, attended the inauguration of a German-built Egyptian submarine on December 10, 2015 in Hamburg, Germany. In his speech at the inauguration, Mounir stated that this "great technological addition" to Egypt's navy will further its capability to bolster Egyptian national security. 

This is Egypt's first Type-209/1400 submarine with the latest technology installed for this type of vessel. The submarine was built by the German ThyseenKrupp Marine System (TKMS). The inauguration of the submarine was attended by the German Navy Vice Admiral Rainer Brinkmann, Egypt's ambassador to Germany Badr Abdel-Atti, as well the Egyptian consul in Hamburg and a number of German and Egyptian military officials.

Preliminary negotiations for ex-German Navy Type 206A boats were reported to have begun in December 2004, while in mid-2009 there were unconfirmed reports that Egypt might buy a pair of Project 636/Kilo-class submarines from Russia, but these initiatives were stalled due to a lack of funding. Egypt had signed the deal with Germany to buy two German-made Type 209 submarines in 2011, and then ordered two more in 2014.

The Type 209 is a class of diesel-electric attack submarine developed exclusively for export by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) of Germany. The HDW Class 209/1400-Mod submarine is the most recent version of the HDW Class 209 "family" (209/1100, 209/1200, 209/1300, 209/1400 and 209/1500) in a line of 63 boats contracted with 14 customer navies.

Like all its predecessors, HDW Class 209/1400-Mod is a compact and reliable submarine featuring most recent technology, high combat strength, extraordinary battery payload and low signatures. Its comprehensive mission profiles include also surveillance and intelligence gathering tasks. It is also ideally suited for Special Forces operation missions.

The Type 209/1400-Mod has an overall length of 61.2 m and a surfaced displacement of 1,280 tons. Type 209 submarines are armed with 8 bow 533 mm torpedo tubes and 14 torpedoes. The Type 209/1400s used by Turkey are also armed with Sub-Harpoon missiles. The class can be armed with a variety of torpedo models depending upon the country. The majority of boats carry Surface and Underwater Target (SUT) or the Special Surface Target (SST) torpedoes.

In order to increase their indiscretion rate, HDW lass 209 boats may be equipped with a HDW fuel cell plug-in section for air-independent submarine propulsion. Such integration can be carried out during a regular midlife modernization and leads to a considerable increase in submerged endurance.

The Modernization of Romeo-class Submarines

The Egyptian navy had ten Romeo-class submarines, of which eight were operational, four provided by the Soviet Union and four provided by China. Four of the submarines were undergoing modernization in an Egyptian shipyard under contract with an American firm –on June 25, 1996, Lockheed Martin Tactical Defense Systems in Akron, has delivered the fourth Romeo-C class diesel electric submarine to the Egyptian Navy as part of a $133 million upgrade contract of four submarines undertaken in Alexandria, Egypt.

The upgrade program took place at Ras El Tin Naval Base, Alexandria, Egypt. The program employed Egyptian Navy yard personnel and support services, as well as Lockheed Martin personnel. The Egyptian Navy program management team coordinated activities between Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor, and other branches of the Egyptian government.

Lockheed Martin installed modern fire control, sonar, navigation and communications systems, as well as electronic support measures into each submarine. The company also provided new auxiliary power, air conditioning and ventilation systems to support the new combat systems.
Lockheed Martin installed new sonar domes to accommodate sonar arrays that were supplied by STN ATLAS Elektronik GmbH, Bremen, Germany, and Tactical Defense Systems in Akron. Extensive dockside and at-sea tests were conducted to verify systems integration and overall performance.
The upgrade also included new capabilities for the submarines to fire encapsulated Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles and NT37 wire-guided torpedoes.

A Modern Submarine Fleet

Egypt has over 2,000 km of coastline in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Egypt has one of the biggest navies in the Middle East and the current arm deal will help Egypt to upgrade and modernize its navy. Egypt’s navy is currently taking part in a Saudi-led Arab operation against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The majority of the Egyptian Navy's ships including the submarine fleet were received from the Soviet Union in the 1960s and China in the 1980s. Since the late 1990s Egyptian navy made a modernization project in which new vessels were acquired from western sources such as the United States, Germany and France.

Egypt has learned its lessons and decided to reduce the overreliance on one provider (US) and diversifying the sources of Egypt’s armaments became a strategic priority. Egypt was also keen to ensure its armaments policy responded to international political developments, including the growing influence of China and Russia.

According to sources, Beijing has sought to undercut Western submarine makers on price and by offering attractive export-credit terms for sales (Chinese submarines are built by Wuchang Shipbuilding, which is part of state-run China Shipbuilding Industry Corp.) An Egyptian military source confirmed that China had offered to sell submarines to Cairo. “We are studying it, but it is not an easy decision,” the source said.

In spite of its financial problems, Egypt signed multibillion (U.S dollars) contracts for arms supply with France, Germany, China and Russia.

The Egyptian Navy currently has four improved Romeo-class diesel submarines, armed with encapsulated Harpoon (Sub-Harpoon capable), and modernized with new sonar, air conditioning and radar systems. However, the country has been looking for more modern replacements for the ageing submarine fleet, over the last decade.

The new four Type 209/1400 submarines are a significant upgrade of the Egyptian navy's operational capabilities. With four submarines of that type, Egypt will have one for maintenance, one for training and one ready to dive and one at sea.

The investment in a modern submarine fleet can be considered as an Egyptian strategic response to regional challenges and less as a part of the Egyptian counter terror strategy against the Islamic state branches in Sinai and Libya.