The Egyptian Air Force operates 220 F-16s, making it the 4th largest F-16 operator in the world. The F-16 is the EAF’s primary frontline aircraft and is used for both air defence and ground attack.
History Of Egyptian Air Force
When Egypt had to rebuild their armed forces after the devastating losses suffered during the 1967 six-day war with Israel, it turned to the USSR as its main supplier for aircraft. Russian advisors and instructors played a crucial role in the rebuilding of the air force.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur war with Israel, Egypt’s air force performed well but could not secure the victory. The EAF lost some 100 of its 220 aircraft during this conflict, including most of its MiG-21 and Il-28 fighters and bombers.
After the Yom Kippur war, Russia stalled deliveries of new aircraft. Because of this, Egypt turned to other suppliers, notably France and the US. In 1979 the government of Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, ending over 30 years of tension and hostilities. With the peace treaty signed, Egypt became a major recipient of United States military aid.
Deliveries of Western equipment started with French Mirage 5 aircraft and US F-4E’s. In the early 80s, Egypt ordered Mirage 2000’s and F-16A/Bs, followed by F-16C/Ds in the mid-eighties.
Egyptian Air Force F-16 Fighter Jet Inventory
U.S. agrees not to sell AMRAAM to Egypt
The United States was said to have agreed to an Israeli request to restrict the capability and use of advanced air-to-air missiles to Jordan and ban their sale to the rest of the Arab world.
The London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat reported that Israel persuaded the Bush administration to impose a set of restrictions on the sale of the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile to Jordan. Earlier, the administration had agreed in principle to a Jordanian request for the AMRAAM for the kingdom’s F-16 fleet.
The newspaper asserted that Israel agreed to an arrangement in which the AMRAAM would be sold to Jordan. But the agreement included a U.S. commitment to ban the export of the air-to-air missile to other Arab states.
Earlier this year, the administration relayed an informal request to Congress to sell the AMRAAM to Egypt. Several senior House and Senate members expressed their opposition to the proposed sale.
F-16 Without AMRAAM
The lack of AIM-120 missiles made the Egyptian F-16 fleet among the least capable in the world – reducing the engagement range of its fighters to little under 70km using the older, slower and less accurate AIM-7P Sparrow – a platform the U.S. Air Force began to phase out of service three decades ago.
The Sparrow uses semi active radar homing, requiring a continuous illumination lock on the target aircraft from the launching fighter, in contrast to AIM-120 equipped jets which use their missiles’ active transmit receive radar guidance systems to achieve lock, launch, then break lock and evade while the missile guides itself to the target.
This seriously undermines the viability of the Egyptian Air Force’s Falcon fleet in air to air combat, and puts it at a. considerable disadvantage against rival powers with Fire and Forget capabilities. Egypt’s southern neighbour Sudan, despite its aerial warfare capabilities being far from state of the art, nevertheless remains a generation ahead in its air to air missile capabilities when deploying the Russian R-77 – a more accurate platform with a 110km engagement range and fire and forget capabilities similar to the AIM-120.
A number of reports also indicate that Sudan could field R-27ET or ER air to air missiles, with a range of 120km or 130km respectively. Ethiopia, a state which lacks a border with Egypt which which has on many occasions been threatened by an attack from its northern neighbour, deploys these same Russian made long range munitions on its elite Su-27 air superiority fighters. Libya too, following decades of neglect of its fighter fleet and seven years of intense internal conflict, could well move to modernise its fighter fleet in the near future.
Upgrading its MiG-23 fighters and MiG-25 interceptors with newer variants of the R-27 missile, or acquiring new MiG-35 or Su-30 jets from Russia equipped with yet more capable missiles, which would leave Egypt in an extremely weak position in the air relative to all its neighbours – far cry from the position of strength it enjoyed in the 1970s. Existing aircraft in the Libyan inventory notably retain higher speeds, operational altitudes and ranges to Egyptian Fighting Falcons and similar sensors.
Egypt’s position relative to neighbouring Israel is considerably worse still, as even without considering its elite F-15 jets the Israeli Air Force’s F-16s are far ahead of their Egyptian counterparts and fielded in far greater numbers than Sudan’s own fourth generation fighters. Israeli Fighting Falcons’ AIM-120C missiles allow them to target Egyptian fighters over 35km beyond their retaliation range and retain far superior accuracy, giving them considerable room to fire while effectively immune to attack.
This advantage is augmented by the considerably superior calibre of Israeli pilots, who enjoy not only more effective training but also far more combat experience than their Egyptian counterparts. As a high level defence partner, Israeli fighters’ internal systems are very likely superior to those sold to third world clients – though this remains unconfirmed. Further cementing this advantage, Israel’s indigenous electronic warfare suites are among the most capable in the world and give its fighters a high degree of survivability against even relatively modern missiles such as the AIM-120B – let alone the AIM-7 which due to its extremely dated electronic warfare countermeasures suite will struggle to touch Israeli fighters even if Egyptian fighters can reach engagement range.
While on paper Egypt’s Fighting Falcons appear a potentially formidable asset, possibly even capable of challenging the Israeli fleet in some scenarios, the reality based on the underwhelming and heavily dated capabilities of Egyptian Flacons indicates otherwise.
Egyptian Air Force Future
With Egypt having made a number of new orders for Russian arms from 2013, and Moscow having far fewer qualms about selling the African country state of the art weapons systems than Western manufacturers, the balance of power in the air is set to change considerably in the near future.
Alongside S-300VM surface to air missile batteries, Egypt’s MiG-29M fighters will retain an engagement range of 130km using the latest Russian air to air munitions – and with reports indicating that Egypt plans to acquire MiG-35 jets, possibly with K-77 missiles, the country may well go a long way towards reversing decades of underwhelming aerial warfare capabilities within a few short years.
The country’s F-16 fleet however, unable to deploy non U.S. munitions and with the AIM-120 series remaining out of reach due to restrictions imposed by Washington, will continue to serve as something of a paper tiger against near peer adversaries in regards to its aerial warfare capabilities.