Egypt increased its 24 Rafale aircraft order with Dassault Aviation to 54 by signing up to buy 30 more jets in May 2021; In addition, it is in the middle of procuring 24 Su-35 jets from Russia.
The Rafale fleet will bolster the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) with attack capabilities and reduce reliance on its ageing F-16s.
However, questions are being raised as to why the EAF went in for the comparatively expensive Rafales when it is in the process of receiving 24 Su-35 jets to add to its fleet of Russian MiG-29SM aircraft. The two Russian aircraft enable deep strike missions with a variety of Russian origin missiles, targeting pods and guided weapons.
CAATSA Sanctions against Egypt?
The Egyptian source further commented: “the fact that U.S. has threatened imposing Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against the EAF’s Su-35 purchase and not MiG-29s or the KA-52 in itself tells a story. The Su-35 is like the S-400 air defense system, whose radars have the capability to detect F-35 jets.”
The source’s comments echo that of Maj. Gen. Khaled Okasha, director of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies who told Al-Monitor that the main goal of Egypt in acquiring the Sukhoi 35 aircraft is that it guarantees the Egyptian army superiority in regional skies. “This is why the United States strongly opposed this deal and threatened sanctions against Egypt.”
According to Rostec information, “the Sukhoi Su-35 can simultaneously track up to four ground targets or up to 30 airborne targets, as well as engaging up to eight airborne targets at the same time. Besides, the radar control system has the friend-or-foe identification capability for aerial and maritime objects, is capable of identifying the class and type of airborne targets and take aerial photos of the ground.”
Rafale plus Su-35 combination for EAF
The deal to buy additional 30 Rafale aircraft has come after a nagging issue with the supply of MBDA missiles for the Egyptian Rafales had been sorted out. The supply of Meteor and Scalp missiles that form part of the weapons package for Rafales were held up due to the U.S. blocking the sale of American-made components in the missiles. While some reports say that the U.S. State Department has given clearance for the sale of these components, others say that missile manufacturer MBDA, has replaced the components with ones sourced from Europe.
MBDA will supply Egypt the Mica NG air-to-air missile besides Meteor and SCALP long-range missiles. In addition, Safran Electronics & Defense will supply its AASM ‘Hammer’ bomb. The SCALP is is designed to target bunkers, missile sites, bridges and airfields. It is fitted with a 450kg BROACH warhead, an inertial and GPS navigation system with IR imaging guidance system, and a microturbo TRI 60-30 turbojet. It can fly at speeds of Mach 0.8 and can be launched from a flight altitude of 30-40km. The SCALP has the ability to pierce through well-defended targets and should add significant bite to the EAF ground attack capability.
The combination of Su-35 for air superiority and the Rafale for air-to-air and air-to-ground engagements should bridge the gap somewhat with the Israeli air force though the latter will continue to retain its ‘qualitative military edge,’ thanks to superior situational awareness, an array of American and Israeli weapons and top-class training.
Poorly Weaponized EAF F-16s Prompt Flight to Russia
To understand why Cairo booked a flight Moscow to buy first the MiG-29M and later the Su-35, it is necessary to understand its position vis-à-vis the United States in terms of arms supply. The last big U.S. military sale to Egypt was of 24 F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft and associated parts weapons and equipment, valued at $3.2 billion approved in 2009. The F-16 feet strength in the EAF is 240-strong with the last received being the F-16D Block 52 in 2013 under the Peace Vector program.
However, Egyptian F-16 are among the least lethal in service with America’s allies having been denied advanced armaments such as the AIM-120C air-to-air missiles.
EAF F-16 Armaments: Egyptian F-16s are equipped to accommodate GBU-15’s, AGM-65D and AGM-88 missiles. The more recent AIM-120 series of missiles are not in the inventory of the EAF. The lack of AIM-120 missiles reduced the engagement range of the EAF F-16 fleet to under 70km using the older AIM-7P Sparrow. Egypt’s neighbours such as Sudan, Libya and Ethiopia have far more capable R-77 missiles mounted on the underbelly of their Soviet-origin aircraft such as Su-27.
Reports say the U.S. denied advanced missiles to Egypt to retain Israel’s qualitative military edge. However, Cairo is concerned over the Israeli Air Force (IAF)’s capabilities being several leagues ahead of that of its own Air Force. The IAF is the best equipped in the region with F-35 stealth jets, F-15 aircraft to carry heavy missiles and bombs, and F-16s for ground attack.
Russian MiG-29SM for Egyptian Air Force
Reports indicate that Cairo’s first choice was the Rafale but due to a variety of reasons including political (Egypt’s human rights record), the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2011-2012 and Egypt’s inability to pay upfront cash for the French jets, it turned to Russia. However, when it later signed up for the Rafales in 2015 following nearly half of decade of negotiations, it received liberal financing from a consortium of French banks.
According information from various sources, the Egyptian MiG-29Ms are equipped the OLS-UE Infrared Search and Track (IRST) capable of detecting enemy aircraft by their infrared signature, acquiring surface threats and showing the imagery on a display in the cockpit. In addition, the aircraft are equipped with the PPK targeting pod comprising thermal imager/TV systems and laser rangefinders allowing the employment of precision-guided munitions. Besides, it has the MSP small-size electronic countermeasures (ECM) system which spoofs the homing heads of guided missiles.
All this, combined with the latest generation missiles such as the R-77 and R-27 with no limits on re-supply, at a lesser price than what comparable armaments for the Rafale would cost, made the MiG-29M deal irresistible.
Enter the Sukhoi Su-35
Egypt’s purchase of 24 Su-35, first reported in 2018, surprised everyone. However, the background to the Su-35 purchase is Cairo’s unsuccessful quest to acquire the F-15 eagle. The Su-35 features new avionics including the Irbis phased array radar with a range of 400km and powerful AL-41F1S engines (14,500 kg of thrust) with thrust vectoring control. As to weapons it can carry the R-27 air-to-air missiles and the R-77-1 RVV-SD active radar-guided missile. The full complement of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles manufactured by the Tactical Missiles Corporation besides guided and unguided bombs can be carried by the heavy fighter.
|Ibris-E PESA radar
|Thales RBE2-AA AESA radar
|AN-APG-81 AESA radar
|L175M Khibiny-M electronic countermeasure system
|Thales SPECTRA EW System
|AN/ASQ-239 Barracuda EW system
|OLS-35 optoelectronic targeting system
|Thales/SAGEM-OSF Optronique Secteur Frontal IRST system
|AN/AAQ-40 E/O Targeting System
|Internal 30 mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1 autocannon with 150 rounds
|30 mm GIAT 30/M791 autocannon with 125 rounds
|25 mm GAU-22/A 4-barrel rotary cannon, 180 rounds
|R-27, R-73, R-74, R-77, Kh-29, Kh-31, Kh-35, Kh-58, Kh-59, Yakhont;
KAB-500KR TV-guided bombs, KAB-500L laser-guided bombs, KAB-500OD guided bombs, KAB-500S-E satellite-guided bombs, KAB-1500KR TV-guided bombs, KAB-1500L laser-guided bombs, GBU-500 laser-guided bomb, GBU-500T TV-guided bomb, GBU-1000 laser-guided bomb, GBU-1000T TV-guided bomb
|MICA, Meteor, Scalp, Magic II, Hammer, Storm Shadow, Paveway, Apache, Mark 82, Exocet, ASMP-A nuclear missile, AS-30L
|AMRAAM, Sidewinder, ASRAAM, Meteor, AARGM-ER, JASSM, JAGM, SPEAR 3, Joint Strike Missile, LRASM, JDAM bomb, Paveway laser-guided bombs, B61 MOD 12 nuclear bomb, AGM-154 JSOW