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Egypt Receives 1st US-Built Missile Craft

Nov. 19, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS   |   Comments
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The Egyptian missile corvette S. Ezzat running builder's trials earlier this year in Pascagoula, Miss. / Pakistan Defence

WASHINGTON — While most military sales to Egypt remain on hold, the US is going ahead with the transfer of four new fast missile craft (FMCs) built in Mississippi.

The S. Ezzat, first of the Ambassador III class, was transferred Tuesday to the Egyptian Navy at a ceremony in Pensacola, Fla., where the US maintains an international student program.

“The ship’s Egyptian officers have been training since July under US Navy instruction at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, where the transfer took place,” said Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a spokesman at the Pentagon. The rest of the ship’s 38-man crew will begin training in July at the same facility, he added.

“The US Navy has a lot of expertise to offer in making sure they’re able to use these platforms effectively,” Speaks said.

The second ship, F. Zekry, is nearly complete, with delivery planned for December.

Two more FMCs, the M. Fahmy and A. Gad, remain under construction at VT Halter Marine’s Pascagoula shipyard, and are expected to be delivered in 2014.

The 62-meter FMCs have been built under a US Navy-managed program funded largely under the Foreign Military Sales program. Begun in 2001, the program moved forward in fits and starts until the first construction contracts were awarded in Sept. 2008.

The stealthy, 700-ton ships are powered by three MTU diesels and designed for a top speed of 41 knots. The FMCs are armed with eight Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles and an OTO Melara 76 mm gun, with self-defense provided by a Rolling Airframe Missile launcher and a Close-In Weapon System Block 1B. They are designed to operate at sea for up to eight days.

The ships are specifically designed to defend the Suez Canal region.

The Egyptian Navy operates several classes of fast missile ships, built in the Soviet Union, Germany and Britain, but the last was delivered in 1982.

Delivery of the ships was questionable after the Egyptian military overthrew the country’s elected government of President Mohamed Morsy in July. A State Department review of all US military aid programs to Egypt was held, and some major US programs have been suspended, including the transfer of F-16 jet fighters, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, and M1 Abrams main battle tanks.

Some programs, however, have been allowed to go ahead, particularly those helping Egypt to uphold peace treaty obligations with Israel, and assets to fight counterterrorism and security in Sinai.

“From the review we decided we will continue to work constructively with the Egyptian government and continue to provide assistance that advances our vital security objectives, like countering terrorism, countering proliferation and ensuring security in the Sinai,” Speaks said Nov. 19.

“We will also continue to provide spare or replacement parts and related services for some of our programs and continue military training and education.”

The US provides Egypt with about $1.3 billion in military aid each year, second most of any recipient behind Israel.

The Obama administration began holding up some of the weapon transfers in early October. The exact value of what is being withheld isn’t clear, but administration officials said in October it included US $260 million in cash, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in military equipment.

“Our foreign partners rely on the US Navy's expertise in ship design and acquisition,” said a Pentagon source. “The Navy will continue to assist with acquisition and oversight efforts throughout the construction process and will also provide follow-on technical and training support.

“Ultimately, we want to see Egypt succeed,” the Pentagon source added. “We want to see the political roadmap succeed and result in a constitution that protects universal human rights and civil liberties, and a democratically-elected government through free and fair elections.”

Efforts to speak with Egyptian officials in Washington were unsuccessful at press time.

Zachary Fryer-Biggs contributed to this report.

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