Although the navy was the smallest branch of the military, it
was large by Middle Eastern standards. After some years of neglect,
in 1989 the navy was in the process of modernization. The navy's
diverse and challenging missions included protection of more than
2,000 kilometers of coastline on the Mediterranean and Red seas,
defense of approaches to the Suez Canal, and support for army
operations. The navy had been built mostly with Soviet equipment
during the 1960s but in the early 1980s acquired a number of
vessels from China and Western sources. In 1989 the navy had 18,000
personnel, not including 2,000 members in the Coast Guard.
Three-year conscripts accounted for about half of the personnel.
Principal bases were at Alexandria (Al Iskandariyah), Port Said,
and Marsa Matruh on the Mediterranean Sea, at Port Tawfiq (Bur
Tawfiq) near Suez, and at Al Ghardaqah and Bur Safajah on the Red
Sea. Some fleet units were stationed in the Red Sea, but the bulk
of the force remained in the Mediterranean. Navy headquarters and
the main operational and training base were located at Ras at Tin
The Egyptian navy was only peripherally involved in the series
of conflicts with Israel. During the 1956 War, Egyptian destroyers
and torpedo boats engaged larger British vessels in a move aimed at
undermining the amphibious operations of the British and French.
The Egyptian blockade of ships in the Strait of Tiran that were
headed toward Israel helped precipitate the June 1967 War, but
Egypt's navy played only a minor role in the overall conflict. The
navy's most significant action occurred in October 1967, a few
months after the cease-fire, when an Egyptian missile boat sank one
of Israel's two destroyers in Egyptian territorial waters off Port
In the October 1973 War, Egypt blocked commercial traffic to
Elat in the Gulf of Aqaba by laying mines; it also attempted to
blockade Israeli ports on the Mediterranean. When Israel succeeded
in enticing Egyptian missile craft into action, Israeli gunboats
equipped with superior Gabriel missiles sank a number of Egyptian
units. Both navies shelled and carried out rocket attacks against
each other's shore installations, but neither side experienced any
Egypt maintained satisfactory operational standards for older
ships at its own naval workshops and repair facilities; many ships
were outfitted at these facilities with newer electronic equipment
and weapons. During the 1980s, the navy focused on upgrading
submarine and antisubmarine warfare, improving minesweeping
capabilities, and introducing early-warning systems. Libya's mining
of the Red Sea in 1984 focused attention on the need to protect
shipping lanes leading to the Suez Canal and the need for more
advanced mine countermeasure vessels. The navy periodically tested
its effectiveness during joint operations with friendly foreign
fleets. Egypt regularly carried out exercises with French and
Italian naval units and with ships of the United States Sixth Fleet
in a series known as "Sea Wind." Exercises were also scheduled to
be held with Britain in 1990.
The navy's main operational subdivisions were the destroyer,
submarine, mine warfare, missile boat, and torpedo boat commands.
The most up-to-date combat vessels of the navy were two
Descubierta-class frigates built in Spain and commissioned in 1984.
The frigates were equipped with Aspide missiles and Stingray
torpedoes for antisubmarine operations and with Harpoon SSMs. The
navy commissioned two Chinese frigates of the Jianghu class in the
same period. The navy had ten Romeo-class submarines, of which
eight were operational, four provided by the Soviet Union and four
by China. Four of the submarines were undergoing modernization in
an Egyptian shipyard under contract with an American firm.
Modernization included refitting the vessels so they could fire
Harpoon SSMs and Mk 37 torpedoes. In 1989 Egypt purchased two
Oberon-class submarines from Britain. These submarines would
require refitting and modernization before entering Egyptian
service. Most of the navy's considerable fleet of fast-attack craft
armed with missiles or torpedoes came from the Soviet Union or
China. The most modern of these craft, however, were six Ramadanclass missile boats built in Britain in the early 1980s and mounted
with Otomat SSMs (see
table 15, Appendix).
The Coast Guard was responsible for the onshore protection of
public installations near the coast and the patrol of coastal
waters to prevent smuggling. Its inventory consisted of about
thirty large patrol craft (each between twenty and thirty meters in
length) and twenty smaller Bertram-class coastal patrol craft built
in the United States.
The navy lacked its own air arm and depended on the air force
for maritime reconnaissance and protection against submarines. The
air force's equipment that supported the navy included twelve
Gazelle and five Sea King helicopters mounted with antiship and
antisubmarine missiles. In mid-1988 the air force also took
delivery of the first of six Grumman E-2c Hawkeye aircraft with
search and side-looking radar for maritime surveillance purposes.
Data as of December 1990