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Egypt seeks more advanced UAV capabilities

14th January 2021 - 10:00 GMT | by Arie Egozi in Tel Aviv

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Egypt is believed to be interested in the Falco Xplorer ISR platform, in keeping with a strong defence business relationship between Italy and the North African country.

The Egyptian MoD is holding discussions with Italian OEM Leonardo with a view to developing indigenous production of UAVs and UCAVs.

If negotiations bear fruit they would open a new unmanned aircraft market for Leonardo, underlining the close defence procurement relationship between Egypt and Italy.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, Egyptian sources told Shephard that various fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAVs will be demonstrated in the coming months.

Cairo is keen to boost the capabilities of the state-run Egyptian defence industry, in which the military plays a prominent role through conglomerates such as the Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI).

However, it is not clear at this stage what form any industrial partnership with Leonardo would take, or how much of a role technology transfer would play in any agreement.

The Italian company offered no further comment when contacted by Shephard, but other sources indicated that the Egyptians are impressed by the Falco Xplorer (pictured) although they would require certain modifications.

Xplorer performed its maiden flight in January 2020. It has an endurance of more than 24h and a maximum payload of 350kg with MTOW of 1.3t.

Operating at above 24,000ft, Xplorer is designed to offer persistent, multi-sensor strategic surveillance to military and civil customers, either as an integrated system or as a fully managed service flown and operated by Leonardo.

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Egypt currently operates three Chinese-made Wing Loong I MALE UAVs and 18 medium-altitude, medium-endurance ASN-209s developed by a Chinese-Egyptian industrial JV.

Shephard Defence Insight also notes that the Egyptian inventory includes the optionally armed Patroller MALE UAV from Safran Electronics & Defense (sold in 2015 with industrial workshare for the AOI Aircraft Factory), plus the Camcopter S-100 rotary-wing platform from Schiebel.

The Wing Loong I UAVs are notable for their use in operations against Islamist terrorists in Sinai, and in border patrol missions along the Egyptian-Libyan frontier.

However, sources indicated to Shephard that the Egyptian military is dissatisfied by the limited capabilities of Wing Loong I, opening the door for other systems to come to the fore.

Close ties between Egypt and Italy are exemplified by a $984 million order from Cairo for Leonardo to provide for 24 AW149 and eight AW189 helicopters, plus procurement of two FREMM frigates originally intended for the Italian Navy. The first of these vessels, originally Spartaco Shergat but now renamed  Al Galala, arrived in Egypt on 30 December 2020 with the second frigate (ex-Emilio Bianchi) to follow in 2021.

Priority given to the sale to Egypt contributed to push back the deliveries of the last two FREMM frigates to the Italian Navy. The Italian MoD requested Fincantieri to reintegrated the last two ships by 2024 and construction is expected to begin in 2021.

While these deals reflect the lucrative nature of the Egyptian market for Italian defence equipment exporters, the political context is far trickier.

On the same day that Al Galala arrived in Alexandria, completing its delivery voyage, an Egyptian court cleared security service officers of murdering Italian student Giulio Regeni in 2016.

The case has caused outrage in Italy, fuelling political opposition against the FREMM sales to Egypt (the largest ever military deal between the two countries, valued at about $1.3 billion).  Opponents of the deal argue that it could violate Law 185/1990 of the Italian constitution, which forbids arms sales to governments responsible for human rights violations confirmed by the EU and UN.

Additional reporting by Ben Vogel and Noemi Distefano, London

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Arie Egozi

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Arie Egozi


Born in Israel, Arie Egozi served in the IDF and holds a political science and …

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