Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1400, (5 - 11 July 2018)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1400, (5 - 11 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Commemorating Air Defense Force glory

On the 48th anniversary of the founding of the Egyptian Air Defense Force, Air Defense Force Commander Lieutenant-General Ali Fahmi talks to Ahmed Eleiba

 

# Air Defence Forces #Air Defence Forces # Ali Fahmi
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The Egyptian Air Defense Force was founded on 1 February 1968 in very difficult and complex circumstances. The War of Attrition against Israel was in progress, and Egypt’s forces were under constant aerial assault from the enemy’s state-of-the-art war planes such as Phantoms and Skyhawks.

However, Military historians regard 30 June 1970 as the real beginning, as this was when Egypt’s first modern missile-defence system was put into place, deterring enemy aircraft from entering airspace over to the west of the Suez Canal.

The fledging Air Defense Force thus received practical training under the gruelling conditions of actual combat. During the first week of July 1970, Egyptian forces downed a number of Israeli warplanes and captured their pilots in a success dubbed “the week of the Phantom downing”.

How was the missile-defence system conceived and planned?
The missile-defence system is a multi-faceted combat assemblage consisting of anti-aircraft missiles and artillery deployed in a succession of rings in reinforced positions and bunkers capable of destroying hostile aircraft and providing air defence for the main assemblage of ground forces, airbases and military hardware and other vital targets west of the Suez Canal.

The defence was constructed under extremely arduous circumstances. The “long arm” of the enemy, the Israeli air force, was battling to prevent the Egyptian army and the civil construction firms it had engaged from constructing the fortifications needed to house the missiles. Despite the enormous efforts and sacrifices on the part of the Egyptian anti-aircraft artillery units, the enemy frequently managed to damage or destroy the structures almost as soon as they were built.

Our men in the Air Defence Force performed the studies, laid the plans, and worked indefatigably until they had completed their task. There were two possible ways to carry it out. One option was for the missile defence brigades to spring forward in one go, occupy unfortified forward positions and sustain the anticipated losses until the fortifications were constructed. The second was for those brigades to advance gradually in stages, secure positions and hold their ground while construction operations were carried out in the secured areas under the protective cover of the forces at the rear.

The planners settled on the second option. The first ring east of Cairo was secured with no response from the enemy. Then the plans for the next three rings, extending eastward from the midway point between Cairo and the Suez Canal, were successfully carried out with complete precision and coordination. This was the real beginning of the preparations for the 1973 War.

With such preparations in place, how did the victorious confrontation in October 1973 play out?
Firstly, it’s important to appreciate the nature of the Israeli air force, its high combat expertise and its sophisticated weaponry. The Israelis had begun to plan and build their air force early on. They equipped it with the latest hardware in armaments at the time, purchasing Mirages from France and Phantoms and Skyhawks from the US. By 1973, they had 600 aircraft of various sorts. They had both the time and the resources to prepare and equip their air force after the 1956 War and after the fake victory in 1967 when they acquired large numbers of modern aircraft.

Egyptian air defences took on the challenge of those planes. Their efforts began with an epic story of steadfastness and defiance in 1970 in the face of constant aerial bombardment as they built the missile defence. They completed their task in only five months (April through August that year). The anti-aircraft missile brigades took down more than 12 Phantoms and Skyhawks, forcing Israel to agree to comply with the then US secretary of state William Rogers’ ceasefire plan on 8 August 1970.

As the men of our Air Defence Force began to train and prepare for war, we received a number of modern Sam-3 (Pechora) surface-to-air missiles, which we incorporated into our aerial defence systems by the end of 1970. During the ceasefire period, our forces were able to prevent the enemy from spying on our forces west of the canal. On the morning of 17 September 1971, we downed the Israelis’ “Stratocruiser” electronic reconnaissance plane. Also, as we continued preparations for the War of Liberation, we introduced the modern Sam-6 missile systems.

The Air Defence Force’s mission was extremely difficult because the theatre of operations was not limited to the Suez Canal front. It comprised the whole of Egypt, with all its vital political, economic and strategic targets, its Air Force bases and airports, and its naval bases and strategic ports. On the first day of the fighting on 6 October 1973, the Israeli enemy, using diverse aircraft, pelted the Egyptian forces that had staged the canal crossing throughout the day. This was the Israelis’ first and immediate reaction to the crossing.

They sustained their attack throughout the night of 6-7 October using a smaller number of aircraft. Egyptian anti-aircraft missile and artillery units succeeded in taking out more than 25 enemy aircraft, and our forces wounded and captured many pilots. As a result, the commander of the Israeli air force ordered its pilots not to go within at least 15km of the Suez Canal. On the morning of 7 October 1973, the enemy carried out a number of raids against forward airbases, airports and radar brigades, but they failed to make an impression while suffering further losses in aircraft and pilots.

In the first three days of the war, the Israeli air force lost more than a third of its planes and many of its much-vaunted pilots. On the fourth day of the war, Israeli commander Moshe Dayan was forced to admit that he was unable to penetrate the Egyptian missile barrier.

Against the backdrop of the current threats to the region and the lack of political stability, how does the Air Defence Force maintain its high combat-readiness?
We military men work according to specific plans and programmes and towards clear aims. At the same time, we pay attention to what’s going on around us: the events in the region and the changes and the threats that are jeopardising all prospects of peace. All of this is present in our minds. However, the Armed Forces always have certain goals, and they follow set programmes and means for maintaining efficacy in war and peace.

When we speak of the Air Defence Force’s combat readiness, we are talking about its permanent and lasting aim, which is to be able, day and night, in war and in peace, and under all circumstances, to carry out its duties successfully. High and permanent combat-readiness is something that is measurable in terms of the precision, efficacy and time in which the forces carry out their assigned tasks. It also involves well-equipped and prepared command centres, proper maintenance of all weapons and equipment, complete military discipline and high morale.

The Egyptian Armed Forces value military cooperation with Arab and other foreign nations as an important means for development. How is this applicable to the Air Defence Force particularly?
The Air Defence Force assiduously keeps pace with advances in modern technology and its military applications. Towards this end, it diversifies its sources of arms and upgrades hardware and equipment with the assistance of various forms of military cooperation arrangements and on the basis of carefully studied and meticulously designed armaments maintenance and development programmes. We also try to acquire the best weapons available in the international environment.

In this framework, military cooperation operates at two levels. One focuses on the maintenance and upgrading of hardware, equipment and defence systems. The other is to carry out joint manoeuvres with friendly nations such as the Bright Star exercises with the US, the Medusa 5 joint exercises with Greece, the Saudi-Egyptian Faisal 11 manoeuvres, and the Aqaba 3 drills carried out in Jordan. These and other exercises performed this year make it possible for our forces to acquire new expertise and familiarise themselves with the latest methods of planning and operations management used by other countries.

The Egyptian Air Defence Force has been described as one of the most complex in the world because it incorporates a diversity of systems. Could you shed some light on its components?

The Air Defence Force defence system consists of several reconnaissance and early warning components that enable commanders to take appropriate measures to stop or destroy the enemy using air-defence mechanisms strategically positioned throughout the country.

The placement of these mechanisms, some of which are stationary while others are mobile, is based on the nature of the installations and other potential targets that require air-defence arrangements. Different types of equipment and hardware need to be combined to create an integrated system capable of performing the required tasks: radar of diverse ranges for detection and warning, aerial surveillance mechanisms, missile and artillery systems of various sorts, fighter planes, electronic warfare equipment and so on.

The entire system is operated by an integrated command-and-control system that tightly coordinates the activities of subsidiary centres at various levels and focuses them on keeping the enemy under constant pressure, preventing it from achieving its aims, and inflicting the greatest possible damage on it if necessary.

 

Because of major advances in information technology there are few secrets left regarding the armaments systems of most countries in the world. What is the key to safeguarding the Egyptian Air Defence Force’s defence systems?

One of the features of our age is that information is easily available because of the proliferation of the means to obtain it, such as satellites, electronic reconnaissance systems or international data systems. Add to this modern technologies capable of instantly processing information and transmitting it to whoever wants it, and all defence systems have become like open books to friends and foes alike.

However, an important point comes into play here: the idea of using different types of weapons and equipment in unconventional ways, thus ensuring the element of surprise or deception. Proof of the efficacy of this can be found even at the outset of the history of our Air Defence Force when it destroyed Israeli Phantoms using the first missile systems available to us at the time. Another example is how one of our missile systems was moved in total secrecy to lay a trap for the Stratocruiser reconnaissance airship.

By using combat techniques previously unfamiliar to the enemy, we have prevented it from observing our forces as they put in place the facilities that have enabled our Air Defence Force to expand the destructive reach of our missile defences into a greater depth east of the Suez Canal. We in the Armed Forces are convinced that the secrecy of our weapons and equipment is not only possible, but also that we can develop methods of using these weapons and equipment in ways that enable them to accomplish their tasks with total efficacy.

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