Improved Egyptian Navy submarine warfare draws attention

It is no news that Egypt is in the process of modernizing its naval warfare capabilities.

Since the last decade, Egypt has taken a number of steps to improve the extent of its naval strength especially in underwater domain.

Traditionally, submarine warfare has been Cairo's Achilles heel, as clearly witnessed during the Six-day and Yom Kippur War. Both Egyptian and Israeli warships attempted to intimidate each other throughout the war, but did not engage each other.

However, Egyptian submarines were hunted down by Israeli warships and aircraft.

Egyptian Navy submarine fleet

In 2011, Egypt signed a deal with Germany to buy two German-made Type-209 submarines, Egypt decided to take the option for two additional units in 2015.

The type 209/1400 is a class of diesel-electric attack submarine developed for export by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) of Germany. 

It features recent technology, extraordinary battery payload and low signatures. The class can be armed with a variety of torpedo.

Equipped with an advanced offensive weapons, a torpedo fire control system, an electronic weapons control system, along with capability of launching anti-ship missiles and planting naval mines.

With the new Type 209 in place, Egypt will have one for maintenance, one for training, one ready to dive and one at sea, an indication of a significant upgrade of the Egyptian Navy's operational capabilities.

Besides the type 209/1400 submarines, Egypt also has four Chinese-built Romeo class submarines which has undergone upgrades such as fire control systems, sonars and improved weapon systems including addition of Harpoon missiles.

Although, the Chinese-made Romeo-class submarines have exceeded their service life, but a recent US funded upgrade has enabled these submarines to remain in service for years to come.

With its burgeoning submarine fleet, Egypt is still planning on acquiring additional boats.

Recent reports indicate that the Egyptian Navy is currently in contact with Chinese government regarding the acquisition of additional Chinese-made submarines.

The Egyptian Navy expressed an interest in Chinese S26T diesel-powered submarines, an export configuration of the Type 39 submarine.

The S26T diesel-powered submarine manufactured by the China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company (CSOC).

The 1,900 tons S26T diesel-powered submarine has a crew of 38, is about 66 meters long with a maximum surface speed is about 20 knots. Its maximum operating depth is up to 300 meters.

Utilizing the revolutionary Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system, the S26T can remain submerged for up to 20 days while its maximum sea endurance is 60 days.

Another significant strategic implication of this submarine is its ability to launch the CM-708UNB anti-ship missiles.

The CM-708UNB submarine-launched missiles are based on the C-802 family of anti-ship missiles, they can be fired underwater without the need to surface.

With a range of 300 km and fitted with advanced guidance and navigation system including GPS, the C-708 missiles can engage deep inland targets with high accuracy.

Furthermore, S26T submarine is also armed with the Chinese-made Yu-6 type torpedoes, capable of engaging surface vessels and submarines at ranges of up to 45 kilometers using active homing, passive homing and wake homing.

These torpedoes has the ability to engage an enemy vessel by following its wake. This is an advanced capability that will complicate counter-torpedo actions.

Improving Egypt Naval Antisubmarine warfare capability

Beyond submarines, Egypt has also recently acquired and upgraded several antisubmarine surface vessels from the USA, Russia, Germany and France.

Its Chinese-made Hainan-class coastal ASW patrol boats were upgraded by the installation and integration of cutting-edge, US-made sonar systems.

It also received 10 ex-US Navy Seasprite ASW helicopters upgraded to SH-2G(E) standards, and 5 Westland Sea King helicopters mounted with antiship missiles and antisubmarine torpedoes

In December 2015, Russia confirmed the sale of 46 Ka-52Ks to Egypt. These would strengthen the navies ASW capacity.

Addressing the challenges and threats in the Middle East

Egypt's investment in a modern submarine fleet can be considered as a strategic response to regional challenges and threats.

On April 19, 2017, Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Navy, Rear Admiral Khaled Hassan Said commented during the commissioning of the Type-209/1400 (S-41) submarine that the "Navy is working to enhance its combat capacities in order to ensure full and comprehensive control over the coasts of the Arab Republic of Egypt and safeguard its territorial and economic waters." 

As Egypt's submarine warfare capability is being built-up, it has attracted the attention of neighboring countries.

For example, Cmdr. (res.) Eyal Pinko of the Israeli Navy believes that "state-of-the-art weapon systems on board this [Egypt] submarine [fleet] and its various capabilities would add up to a significant threat to the Israeli Navy offshore, deep under the surface and even on land."

Darek Liam

Darek Liam is the North African editor for AMB, where he writes about the intersection of Technology and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as African Union correspondent.

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