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Uwe Mergener

The arms deal between Egypt and Italy, which has been burgeoning in the trade journals for months, now seems to be reaching realisation, with the only question remaining over its scope. It has since been confirmed, citing the Italian news and press agency ANSA, that the Italian government intends to sell two FREMM-class frigates to Egypt with reports that an agreement was reached on Sunday 7th June 2020, following a lengthy phone call between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

It is reported in Egyptian and Italian media that the agreement includes the supply of a total of four frigates, twenty multi-purpose ships and the supply of 24 EUROFIGHTERS, 24 M-346 training aircraft and a reconnaissance satellite though so far, there is no official confirmation of this. If the final deal were on this scale, it would be another great sales success for the Italian arms industry to the North African country after Cairo ordered twenty AW-149 helicopters from Leonardo in April 2019.

For some time now, there has been talk of the sale of two Italian FREMM frigates, which are in the final stages of completion at Fincantieri. The “SPARTACO SCHERGAT” (F 598) and the “EMILIO BIANCHI” (F 589) were originally intended for the Marina Militare and since speculation of this sale was circulating even before the COVID-19 crisis, the renouncing of the two ships is not due to Coronavirus. Nothing is known at this stage about the two frigates to be delivered, nor the terms of the agreement while it is currently unclear whether and how the Marina Militare will be compensated. EMILIO BIANCHI  is  the  last of ten FREMM vessels (also known as the BERGAMINI class) to enter Italian service and the  sixth General Purpose vessel, which also includes four units optimised for anti-submarine warfare. It was launched in Genoa in January and was to be delivered to Marina Militare in April 2021. The ninth unit was launched as “SPARTACO SCHERGAT” in January 2019 and is also a general purpose vessel with her takeover by the Italian Navy originally scheduled for this summer.

Cairo, Rome and Paris

France sold Egypt a unit of this class (the former “NORMANDIE”, now “TAHYA MISR”) in 2015 while Paris also supplied Egypt with two Landing Platform Helicopters, RAFALE fighter jets and four corvettes from the GOWIND project. Only in May 2020 did the LUXOR, the final corvette of the EL FATEH class which dates back to the GOWIND 2500, be completed at the Alexandria Shipyard, the third to be built in Egypt.

Traditionally, the US has been a strong armament supplier for the Egyptian Armed Forces but after the disempowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood, relations deteriorated and the country began to seek alternatives. Cairo has rekindled old Russian relations as based on SIPRI data, 31 percent of the main weapons systems purchased between 2009 and 2018 came from Russia, including Su-35, Mig-29, KA-52 combat helicopters. Egypt has also agreed the delivery of four submarines and four MEKO A-200s from Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems.

Additional contribution from Luca Peruzzi