Egyptian and French naval forces have concluded their joint naval exercises dubbed "Cleopatra 2016", on June 20-23, 2016, near the coastlines of Egypt. The exercises included a number of activities such as planning and carrying out naval offensives. The "Cleopatra" joint exercises take place every two years, having last been held from on December 8-13, 2014, near the southern French port of Toulon.
Egypt’s BPC-210 Mistral Class amphibious assault ship (BPC/LHD), named after late President Gamal Abdel Nasser that Egypt received last month from France took part in the exercise. It also made a two-week pilot voyage from France's Saint-Nazaire, with 170 sailors and 50 French defense experts on board, according to Al-Ahram Arabic.
After taking part in the military drill "Cleopatra 2016", the BPC-210 Mistral arrived at Ras Al-Tin Naval Base in Alexandria. The French-made warship was greeted by special ceremonies performed by Egyptian naval units and attended by the commander of the Navy and other senior military officials. Egyptian navy chief Osama Rabie said that the Mistral is a “major addition” to Egypt’s naval forces, adding that the inclusion of these sophisticated ships will enhance the capacities of the Egyptian Armed Forces as a whole. He underscored Egypt’s close relations with France and the ongoing joint training exercises, the most recent of which were the Cleopatra naval maneuvers that the Abdel-Nasser took part in before its arrival in Egypt.
The "Ramses 2016" military and naval exercise
Egypt and France conducted in March 2016, the "Ramses 2016" military and joint naval maneuvers held off the coast of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
Paris announced that the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which was used to launch air strikes on the ISIS in Syria and Iraq, took part in the maneuvers.
The drill aimed at "sharing our expertise with the Egyptian military... one of our most important Middle East partners," the French defense ministry said at the time.
The Egyptian army said that a French multi-mission frigate purchased by Cairo last year also took part in the drill along with Rafale combat jets and F-16 warplanes.
The joint naval exercise "Cleopatra 2014"
From May 26 to June 4, 2014, France and Egypt have conducted their joint naval exercises, codenamed “Cleopatra 2014.” The exercises took place near the southern French port of Toulon.
More than 1,200 sailors participated in the exercises, including 700 Egyptians on board frigates Rashied and Alexandria, patrol craft October 6th and 25th April and tanker Shalatien.
As for the French Navy participation, it included stealth frigate Courbet, the offshore patrol commander Bouan supply ship, the Montcalm anti-submarine frigate, a nuclear attack submarine and maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters.
The exercises included firing live ammunition to repel and destroy hostile surface and air targets and conducting refueling and supply missions. They also oversaw the launch of night-time sorties by anti-submarine helicopters.
The strategic relations between France and Egypt
Egypt is France’s number one weapons customer. In just 18 months, Egypt ordered roughly US $8 billion worth of French arms and services. Military cooperation between the two countries began in early 2014 with the purchase of four Gowind corvettes. In February 2015, Egypt became the first export buyer of the Dassault Rafale, with an order of 24 aircraft. In February 2015, Cairo also signed a deal to purchase an FREMM (Frégate Européenne Multi-Missions) multipurpose frigate. The FREMM frigate, the Tahya Misr, was delivered in June 2015.
Egypt signed a $1 billion deal with France last year to acquire two Mistral helicopter carriers after their sale to Russia was canceled last August. Egypt had said the second carrier would arrive in September 2016. The Mistral deal is part of several defense contracts Egypt signed with France.
Russia is equipping the BPC-210 Mistral ships with 46 specially designed and equipped Ka-52s helicopters. Egypt will also receive other Russian-made equipment specially designed for the Mistrals, which were originally manufactured for Russia before the contract was transferred to Cairo with the consent of Paris and Moscow.
Egypt has one of the biggest armed forces in the Middle East and the Global armaments ratings say Egypt has one of the best-equipped navies in the world with the naval strength of 319 ships.
The current arm deals and joint exercises with France and other countries will help Egypt to upgrade and modernize its military hardware and capabilities.
The increasing number of Egypt’s armament deals with France represents a concrete step by Egypt to decrease its reliance on US defense capabilities and may indicate a change in the regional balance of power.
Egypt throughout most of its history was a regional power, and President El-Sisi wants to return Egypt to a leading position. This is manifested in his investments in the Armed Forces and mega projects like the new Suez Canal, Dabaa nuclear plant, the bridge that will connect Sinai with Saudi Arabia the new capital, and so on.
As a leading regional power, Egypt is building its military capabilities as a response to the other regional military powers like Israel, Iran, and Turkey and not just as a direct response to the current threats to the national security of Egypt.
Professor Talaat Moussa, a professor of national security studies at the Nasser Higher Military Academy in Cairo said that: "Egypt acquiring the most advanced armament systems to meet and keep pace with the highest levels of danger, the Mistral is the latest helicopter carrier in the world. It has highly sophisticated command and control capacities and is the first of its type in the Middle East,” he said.