Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1353, (20 - 26 July 2017)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1353, (20 - 26 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s global firepower

Despite fighting on multiple fronts in the war on terrorism, Egypt’s Armed Forces continue to improve in ranking as a formidable world military power, writes Hany Ghoraba


At times of war, armies are weakened by continuous fighting and the drainage of their financial, weaponry and manpower resources. However, against all the odds the Egyptian army has nevertheless been able to contradict this traditional state of affairs and turn the disadvantages resulting from fighting a war on terrorism on multiple fronts that include Sinai and Libya into a miraculous ascent within the ranks of world armies from 18th in early 2015 to 10th in July 2017, according to the Global Firepower Ranking.

Undoubtedly, Egypt’s army is now in the major league, and despite its fighting on multiple fronts in the war on terrorism it continues to improve in the world rankings as a formidable power and a force to be reckoned with despite the economic constraints and security odds stacked against it.

Global Firepower is an informative website that ranks the world’s armies according to some 50 different parameters, including the economic power and population of the country from which they come. The site doesn’t factor in the experience of battle-hardened armies in comparison to ones that have hardly witnessed any military actions in recent years, however.

Economic, geostrategic and logistical factors are factored in to the extent that most of the top 20 ranked armies in the world today are from countries with strong economies. This is a manifestation of the old Roman saying, attributed to the writer and politician Cicero, that “the sinews of war are money.” Accordingly, the site has factored in such economic conditions, bearing in mind that a war can take a long period, but also neglecting the fact that some wars could end in a matter of days, and sustaining the armed forces for long periods as a condition for the strength of an army may not be as simple as it seems. 

Firepower, ideally, should be measured by actual firepower and not by economic conditions that can vary and fluctuate even in a strong country. For example, the United States is normally and deservingly ranked number one in military terms, but its economy is burdened by $20 trillion in debt, and this could be a destructive factor at any moment. Nevertheless, without a doubt American military supremacy is only rivalled at certain levels by Russian, and, further off, by Chinese capabilities.

Should economic conditions be factored in here and the US find itself in a confrontation with China, the Chinese will likely use their economic power against the US, causing a direct hit to the economy. However, even so the fact that the American military with all its firepower would still be standing and accordingly theoretically be able to fight a war, even a long one, despite any economic constraints shows that firepower is still firepower.

In other words, if a soldier is carrying a firearm, then he has a firepower amounting to the calibre and number of bullets that firearm can discharge. The fact that his wallet may contain $10 or $1,000 is irrelevant, as the firepower of that soldier is unaffected by his purchasing power. Accordingly, factoring economic conditions in can sometimes be misleading as a weaker country economically can still bring about the military defeat of a wealthier one if it has the necessary firepower.

Despite its excellent ranking of 10th place in the Global Firepower Ranking, Egypt should continue its military modernisation programme with further purchases and training that should include all sectors of the military. This should be done bearing in mind the costs and the maintenance requirements of any equipment acquired, because as a rule of thumb an army should not procure 50 tanks if it only needs and can service 15. It is easy to purchase arms, but the training and maintenance of this equipment to keep it in combat-ready form can be extremely costly in the long run.

INDIGENOUS ARMS MANUFACTURING: Some armchair experts downplay the Egyptian military ranking because they claim that the military industry in Egypt is not up to the standard of its Western counterparts.

Such accusations, while containing some truth, are unfair since the local or indigenous manufacturing of arms, while seemingly appealing as an idea, does not guarantee any form of supremacy in war. In fact, the opposite can be the case. For instance, years of boycott by the West has forced the Iranian army, once amongst the world’s elite military forces, into the indigenous manufacturing of arms. The results have been far from optimal, and the quality of the arms produced has set back the entire army, rendering it a second grade one in comparison to its former glory before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

When it comes to arms manufacturing, it is the quality of the production that matters, not the quantity. Aside from the American and Russian armies and to a lesser extent the French and British ones, no other country is able to fully manufacture its military equipment and arms efficiently.

As a result, Egypt only manufactures equipment in which it can excel, such as training jets, drones, armoured vehicles, light tanks, air-defence systems, short, medium and long-range missiles, various kinds of guns and firearms, rocket-propelled grenades, mines, ammunition and so on. However, for heavier equipment such as tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets, these are either partly manufactured in cooperation with foreign partners or imported entirely.

Theoretically, the Egyptian arms industries can manufacture fighter jets and training jets such as the Tucano, Alpha and K-8. These are almost entirely manufactured in Egypt and are testament to that fact. However, fighter jets and air superiority leave no room for trial and error as equipment of this sort is the backbone of any modern military, and accordingly such jets are imported from the United States, France, Russia and China, which have been pioneers in the field for decades.

In its currently difficult economic circumstances Egypt cannot afford to set up an ambitious programme to manufacture fighter jets as the country does not have the luxury to spend 46 billion euros, as the French did to manufacture the Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft, only to wait for over a decade to find its first buyers. Similarly, the Americans spent over $400 billion developing their latest F-35 masterpiece, and this still has technical issues.

Egypt cannot afford to enter a race of this sort, especially since Egyptian pilots cannot be seen to be using inferior jets to protect Egypt’s skies. Accordingly, purchasing such state- of-the-art equipment from abroad is imperative and the most logical solution to keep the Egyptian military’s strength and superior capabilities. Unlike in sports events, in a war there is no silver medal for second place but only defeat and destruction.

As for the importance of Global Firepower rankings, these could be seen as more or less similar to the FIFA world football rankings that list the rankings of national football teams on a monthly basis. The Firepower ranking is an excellent indicator of the strengths of each world army using statistics and over 50 independent parameters.

However, just like the FIFA rankings, the Global Firepower rankings are an indicator based only on current time, meaning that like in football if Germany or Brazil are ranked as No 1 this is an indicator of the strength of these national teams based on their latest results and records. However, this ranking does not guarantee that either Brazil or Germany will defeat a slightly lower-ranked team such as Holland or France in a friendly or official game because there are many parameters that could come into play with every game played.

Similarly, the United States as a supreme military power is not guaranteed a positive outcome from any conflict that it might enter into with lower-ranked armies. The Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars are proof of that assertion. That said, however, the United States army can wield huge power, and it has a power projection capability that is second to none, with its six fleets and 10 naval super-carriers that can bring war to the door of any rising threat.

The rankings accordingly cannot precisely forecast the outcome of any given war because the war theatre is a complex matter and hundreds of parameters must be factored in in order to project a result. 

For all intents and purposes and regardless of its prestigious ranking in Global Firepower, the Egyptian military remains an instrument of peace. The world has realised the importance of Egypt’s maintaining a powerful military since it is a vanguard of civilisation from possible barbaric attacks from the likes of the Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda or any other group that may emerge as a result of the chaos that followed the Arab Spring.

The Egyptian military thus remains a colossus of peace in a region faced on all sides by terrorism, extremism and sectarianism.

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and Winding Road for Democracy.

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