Since the mid-1970s, the Egyptian Army ended its defense partnership with the Soviet Union and turned pro-Western.
Egypt was denied access to advanced fighters such as the F-15 Eagle and F-14 Tomcat. The reason was Egypt’s status as a second-rate ally. Meanwhile, America’s more senior allied partners, such as Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, all acquired high-end fighter jets. This put Egypt at a distinct disadvantage compared to its neighbours.
And yet, to gave its ally Israel an absolute advantage in the region, Egypt was also banned from buying advanced weapons for its F-16 fleet, the AIM-120 missile. This meant that by the late 1990s, Egypt’s air combat capabilities were very outdated, inadequate against adversaries like Israel. Egypt was armed only with older AIM-7 missiles.
Egypt is also very vulnerable to cuts in parts and supplies from the US. This was demonstrated in 2013, Washington was willing to freeze parts, due to dissatisfaction with the overthrow of the pro-Western Muslim Brotherhood government. Similar actions by the United States have plagued some of its defense customers, such as Indonesia and Pakistan, in the past. Egypt’s F-16 fleet could be incapacitated at any time in the event of war.
To fill the gap in long-range firepower, Egypt was forced to look to its North Korean partner to buy Hwasong-5, Hwasong-6 and Rodong-1 ballistic missiles. In terms of long-range air-to-air capabilities, it was not until 2013 that Egypt’s armed forces made a drastic transformation after decades of dependence on US weapons. They turned to closer defense cooperation with Russia and Europe.
The US imposed an arms embargo on the Egyptian government was also an opportunity for the country to replenish its long-range arsenal, with the decision to buy Russian MiG-29M fighter jets. The MiG-29M at that time, the oldest and least modern Russian fighter, was in production. But compared to American fighters, the MiG-29M was a major upgrade over the Egyptian Air Force’s F-16C.
Although less modern than the F-16C, the MiG-29M has not been reduced in combat features. Owning MiG-29M gives the Egyptian Air Force the opportunity to access long-range air-to-air missiles like R-27ER and R-77. Thus, for the first time in decades, the MiG-29M provided Egypt with an air combat capability comparable to the Israeli Air Force.