French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to Egypt in January 2019, for a three-day trip to boost defense and trade ties. The visit was Macron's first to Egypt since taking office in 2017, although he hosted President El-Sisi in Paris in October 2017.
Egypt signed deals worth about €6 billion with France when Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande was in office, including the purchase of 24 Rafale fighter jets, a frigate, and two Mistral warships.
Two months later, in March 2019, Egypt and France have conducted simultaneously two joint exercises (an aerial exercise and a naval exercise) and another naval exercise in France (Cleopatra 2019).
The Naval Exercise in Egypt
Egyptian and French naval forces carried out a maritime exercise in the Red Sea on March 4, 2019. The drill included the planning and implementation of several maritime training activities.
Egypt participated in the exercise with two Mistral-type amphibious assault ships (Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser), several frigates and missile boats along with Special Forces units. France participated with Mistral-type amphibious assault ships, frigates, and Special Forces.
The BPC-210 Mistral-Class Amphibious Assault Ships (BPC/LHD)
In October 2015, the two countries signed a deal for the sale of two BPC-210 Mistral Class amphibious assault ships (BPC/LHD), originally been contracted by Russia, after their sale to Russia was canceled by France, in August 2014, in response to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
The first Mistral helicopter carrier named after late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser arrived in Alexandria in June 2016 and the second named after late President Anwar Sadat arrived in Alexandria in September 2016.
Russia and Egypt had signed a deal for Egypt’s purchase of 50 Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters from Russia. The purchase includes the variant of the Ka-52 Katran, which specifically designed for the Mistrals that Russia had intended to acquire.
The Air Force Exercise
French Rafale jets have arrived at an Egyptian air base on March 3, 2019, to conduct a joint military exercise with the Egyptian Air Force.
According to the Egyptian Armed Forces’ statement on the drill, the joint exercise was the first of its kind involving Rafale jets to bolster security and stability in the region.
The joint military training included a number of lectures on pre-flight tasks to unify military concepts and exchange experience between the two countries’ participating troops.
The drill also included carrying out several combat sorties and training on different combat methods, in addition to carrying out a joint air operation to defend vital targets and attack hostile targets.
The military exercise was attended by the commander of the Egyptian air forces, Air Marshal Mohamed Abbas, the deputy of the French ambassador in Cairo, and the French military attaché in Cairo.
The Rafale Fighter Jets Deal
In February 2015, Egypt became the first export buyer of the Dassault Rafale, with an order of 24 aircraft. Half of the funding for the deal was reportedly financed by French banks, while the remainder was paid from the Egyptian side. The first three jets were delivered in July 2015, the second batch arrived in January 2016, the third was delivered in April 2016 and the fourth batch arrived in July 2017.
France and Egypt have discussed a possible deal to sell more Rafale fighter jets to Egypt during President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s visit to Paris in October 2017.
Exercise Cleopatra-Japian 2019
A number of Egyptian naval vessels have left from Ras Al-Tin Naval Base, on March 24, 2019, for the port of Toulon in France to participate in the Egyptian-French Joint Maritime Training (Cleopatra-Japian 2019) in French territorial waters. During a ceremonial departure, Commander of the naval forces Ahmed Khaled conveyed the greetings and appreciation of Minister of Defense and Military Production Mohamed Zaki and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Mohamed Farid.
The Egyptians participated Mistral-class amphibious assault ship Gamal Abdel-Nasser and FREMM frigate “Long Live Egypt.” Also participating in the training activities were a number of students of the Egyptian Maritime College.
Training activities began with conferences on standardizing combat concepts and implementing equipment testing procedures in preparation for pre-sailing training. The drill included the implementation of several activities, including the planning and management of joint naval combat operations.
The naval forces carried out drills to counter threats against maritime security, including terrorist acts, and protecting cargo ships and searching suspicious vessels. The training also included naval reconnaissance, intercepting enemy targets, combating non-stereotyped threats, carrying out visitation and inspection of suspected vessels, carrying out several sailing formations, training in exchanging means of amphibious landing between the Egyptian and French helicopter carriers, and exchanging aircraft onboard naval vessels as well.
The air defense elements, hooked on the helicopter carrier Mistral, carried out a shooting exercise with live ammunition on an aerial target that showed accuracy and outstanding ability to hit enemy targets.
Lt. Gen. Ahmed Khaled, the commander of the naval forces, accompanied by the French naval commander, Lt. Gen. Christophe Brazuck, witnessed the final stage of the training.
Egyptian and French naval Special Forces carried out a raid on a suspicious vessel using helicopter landing and in conjunction with speed boats. The Special Forces also carried out a joint naval operation on an enemy coast with the participation of the Egyptian and French demining forces to clear the coast and open the gap for the amphibious task force.
Exercise "Cleopatra 2018"
The Egyptian and French navies have conducted the previous joint exercise "Cleopatra 2018" in the Red Sea on February 20-23, 2018.
The exercise involved drills using Mistral-class helicopter carriers, frigates, and special marine units. It also witnessed the participation of members of the air forces, air defense forces and the southern command, along with units from the French navy using helicopter carriers, frigates, and special units.
The drills involved a number of combat exercises using live ammunition, submarines, and defense against asymmetric threats, as well as executing daytime and nighttime sailing formations.
Cleopatra 2018 also included a comprehensive amphibious landing for the first time on one of the Red Sea islands. The landing was launched using reconnaissance groups on the island, followed by the landing of special marine and ground forces.
The final stage of the drills was attended by Egypt's Army Chief-of-Staff Mohamed Farid and Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Navy, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Khaled, as well as his French counterpart in the Indian Ocean and a number of other Armed Forces officials.
Egypt is France’s number one weapons customer. In the last years, France has signed a number of military deals with Egypt, including the sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets, multi-tasking frigates and two Mistral warships in contracts worth more than €6 billion.
The Egyptian President had three official visits to France, since being sworn into office in 2014. The last visit was in October 2017, meeting his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Paris. The visit saw the signing of agreements worth €440 million to finance several development projects in Egypt.
The increasing number of Egypt’s armament deals with France represents a concrete step by Egypt to decrease its reliance on the US and may indicate a change in the regional balance of power.
Egypt regularly holds military exercises with Arab, African and Western countries to boost military collaboration and exchange expertise. The air and naval exercises came as part of the joint plan between the Egyptian and French armies to carry out several combat missions using modern naval and air force technologies.
Egypt was a regional power throughout most of its history, 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, El Dabaa nuclear plant, and the new capital.
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 terror threats to the country’s national security.
[Sources: The National, Xinhua, Ahram Online, Egypt Armed Forces]