As Asian firms compete to supply Egypt’s military planes, Cairo turns its attention to local production

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo in September 2022. (Photo courtesy of Twitter Singh)

BEIRUT — Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent visit to Egypt is just the latest sign of increased defense ties between the two countries, which could lead to joint production of light fighter jets.

But beyond the fighter jets themselves, analysts told Breaking Defense that if the deal is scrapped, Egypt will gain something more valuable: advanced manufacturing know-how.

“Cairo seeks not only to diversify procurement options, but also to localize production in order to develop domestic defense capabilities,” said Mohammed Soliman, managing director of McLarty Associates and a foreign scholar at the Middle East Institute. “It’s important to think through a lens that emphasizes strategic sustainability and efficiency rather than efficiency. Egypt wants to become a middle power in terms of developing a sustainable and own military potential that would allow Cairo to withstand the competition of the great powers.

During Singh’s visit he signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) with his Egyptian counterpart, General Mohamed Zaki, which states that the two countries will expand defense cooperation. This joint commitment comes months after Indian and Egyptian media reported in late June that India had offered to set up a manufacturing facility in Egypt to produce Tejas Mk1A light combat aircraft and helicopters.

But India is not the only country trying to strike a defense aviation deal with Egypt. In August, South Korea, which recently concluded an artillery deal with the North African country, according to reports offered its FA-50 trainer aircraft and light attack aircraft also locally produced in Egypt.

Localization efforts

Like many regional states in the Middle East, Egypt is committed to the localization of defense production, but with a different business model than the Gulf countries. While other countries are aiming to achieve 50 percent local production by 2030, Egypt is negotiating with countries in the Far East, namely India and South Korea, with production lines in mind and taking advantage of the existing industrial infrastructure already in place. in Cairo.

“Indeed, there are talks between Egypt and India to jointly manufacture the Tejas fighter jet in Egypt,” Ahmad Eliba, a defense expert at the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, told Breaking Defense. “As for the developed infrastructure, there will definitely be a kind of assessment and study between the two colleagues. But Egypt already has an aircraft construction infrastructure since the early fifties.”

Elibo told Breaking Defense that talks between the two sides have progressed, but a deal has yet to be finalized. Neither the Egyptian nor Indian governments, nor the Tejas manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, responded to Breaking Defense’s requests for comment for this report.

“I expect that the next defense exhibition in Egypt, EDEX 2023, will witness an official announcement regarding the outcome of these negotiations, as Deal with the howitzer with South Korea,” he added.

If the agreement is signed, Eliba expects production to take place at the Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI), which has equipment for this type of production.

But in the wake of the $1.6 billion howitzer deal, South Korea has not backed down from potentially spoiling the deal with India with its FA-50 light attack aircraft offer. On August 3, South Korea demonstrated a T-50B trainer in an aerobatics demonstration at the Pyramids Air Show in Egypt.

Although not officially confirmed, discussions between South Korea and Egypt regarding the FA-50 light attack aircraft are reportedly ongoing. Korea recently network a large sale of FA-50 to Poland for dozens of aircraft.

The Egyptian Air Force currently operates a number of fighter jets of various origins, including the F-16, Mirage, MiG 29 and Rafale.

Why India?

If the deal does go to India, it won’t be a big surprise, as it’s not the first defense cooperation between the two countries. Egyptian pilots have historically been trained by Indian Air Force pilots, and since 1960 there has been a joint venture to produce the Helwan-300 (Kahira) fighter jet.

A formal Indo-Egyptian Joint Defense Committee was established in August 2006 in Cairo. At the moment, five such meetings have been held between the parties.

According to Eliba, India was Egypt’s choice for defense production for three main reasons.

“First of all, there is an increased demand for this type of aircraft. Second, Cairo is always working to diversify Cairo’s arms sources. And, thirdly, because of the possibility of technology transfer,” he said. “I think Egypt, which has co-production with France, Italy and Germany in the maritime sector, as well as South Korea, China and the UAE in drones, is looking to diversify its co-production partnership.”

Eliba added that from Egypt’s point of view, India is a technologically advanced country in the aviation industry and has a developed military industry, in the procurement of which the countries of the Middle East are largely interested.

“This collaboration will bring mutual benefits to both, as for India, Egypt is the gateway to the Middle East and North Africa defense market, and defense exhibitions like Edex will be very important for the Tejas aircraft itself, especially if the production takes place in Egypt. ” he said. As Asian firms compete to supply Egypt’s military planes, Cairo turns its attention to local production

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