Egypt has received a new advanced submarine from Germany, raising speculation about its naval expansion and modernization plans. The new Type 209/1400 underwater craft, delivered on April 9, is Egypt’s third of four manufactured by Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.
Egypt’s 2014 Naval Contract with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp
The German provider of naval vessels, surface ships and submarines as well as a number of other products including elevators, is constructing the submarines in the light of a 2014 contract with Egypt. The Egyptian navy received the first submarine of this type in December 2016 and the second in August 2017.
ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems says it will deliver the fourth submarine to Egypt in 2021.
Egypt Eyeing Major Naval Upgrade
Egypt’s acquisition of the new submarines is an important milestone on the road of the modernization of its navy. The administration of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is investing billions of dollars on the modernization of the Egyptian military, in general, and the navy, in particular, despite Egypt’s tough economic realities.
According to Egyptian army spokesman, Col. Tamer al-Rifae, the team that would operate the submarine had already received training in Germany.
“The members of the team completed the training in a record time,” al-Rifae wrote in a statement on April 9.
Important Addition to Egypt’s Navy
The new submarine is a diesel-electric attack underwater craft. It was developed by the German shipbuilding company, Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, which is part of the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems group.
It is the most recent version of the Class 209 family (209/1100, 209/1200, 209/1300, 209/1400 and 209/1500) in a line of 63 boats contracted with 14 international navies. It is a compact craft that features the most recent technology, high combat strength, extraordinary battery payload and low signatures.
Its comprehensive mission profiles include surveillance and intelligence gathering tasks and it is particularly well-suited for Special Forces operations. The submarine has an overall length of 61.2 meters and a surfaced displacement of 1,280 tons. It is armed with 8 bow 533 mm torpedo tubes and 14 torpedoes. This submarine can be armed with a variety of torpedo models.
Facing Down the Terrorist Threat
The delivery of the new underwater craft comes at a time of major change in the region. Egypt has a coastline extending over 2,000 kilometers on the Mediterranean Sea and on the Red Sea. Nevertheless, threats to the security of this coastline are assuming a new nature at a time of new alliances and enmities.
The emergence of terrorism as a threat to nation states is being taken very seriously in Egypt, with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) having an active branch in Egypt’s Sinai.
Egypt’s navy plays a central part in counterterrorism operations, especially with the local ISIS branch receiving a sizeable amount of its supplies through the sea.
Eastern Mediterranean Security
Developments in the region in the past few years make it necessary for Egypt to increase dependence on its navy to protect its own interests.
Egypt is becoming party to the emerging natural gas wealth in the Eastern Mediterranean. In 2015, the Italian state-owned company Eni discovered a gigantic gas field off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. The field now gives Egypt almost half of its production, but Cairo made other significant discoveries later that are increasing the national natural gas production.
Egypt needs, however, to protect this wealth against recurrent threats, especially from Turkey which is militarily interfering in neighboring Libya and tries to institute itself as a main player in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Turkey, an ideological and regional adversary of Egypt, says regional states have to get permission from it if they want to extend pipelines or explore for gas, citing a maritime boundary delimitation deal it signed with Libya’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
Growing Iranian Presence
Egypt’s navy is also instrumental in the protection of the international maritime movement in the Red Sea and through the Suez. Nonetheless, growing Iranian interference in Yemen, near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the southern entrance of the Red Sea has turned into a formidable threat to this freedom of movement.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which has overrun most of Yemen, threatens navigation in the southern entrance of the Red Sea and through the strait, having attacked oil tankers several times in the past years.
Egypt has deployed some of its naval units near the strait and opened a military base on its southern Red Sea coast with the aim of keeping threats at bay and protecting the Suez Canal. The presence of a modern powerful navy, security analysts say, is a matter of utmost importance for carrying out this mission.