The two Mistral-class ships, Gamal Abdel Nasser and her sister Anwar El Sadat, were originally built for the Russian navy but were not delivered due to the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
Located at the bridge connecting Asia and Africa and possessing the shortest path from the East to the West, Egypt is arguably the country with the most important role in the structure of the world’s maritime traffic. For that reason, the Egyptian navy is receiving special attention, en route to becoming a formidable force in the Mediterranean as well as Asia.
Since 1970, proposals have been made to the Egyptian government to expand the Suez Canal. However, due to economic and political factors, it was not until 2014 that the administration of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced the launch of the “Suez Canal Corridor Area” super project. Egypt set out to dig a new canal in parallel with the old one. With assistance from the Egyptian army, the new canal was completed in a record time of one year and inaugurated on August 6, 2015.
A few years earlier, in preparation for the new Suez Canal, the Egyptian military planned to procure more modern warships for the navy. After the opening of the new canal, Cairo signed a contract to buy two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships from France. The two ships were originally built for the Russian navy but were not delivered due to the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
With this deal, the Egyptian navy became the first force in the Middle East to have amphibious helicopter carriers. The two Mistral-class ships, Gamal Abdel Nasser and her sister Anwar El Sadat, became flagships for the two fleets established by Egypt at both ends of the Suez Canal.
The ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser amphibious assault ship, also known as ‘the Helicopter Carrier’, bears the hull number L1010. The ship was named after the well-known Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, a leader who has a long and storied history with the Sinai and the Suez.
With superior design, modern electronic warfare capabilities, extensive helicopter interoperability and enormous carrying capacity, Gamal Abdel Nasser plays a pivotal role in the Egyptian navy.
ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser has a length of 200m; beam is 32m; draft is 6.3m; with displacement of 21,300 tons at full load and 32,300 tons with ballasts, Gamal Abdel Nasser is one of the largest helicopter carriers in the world.
The island’s superstructure was placed on the starboard side of the ship leaving a large flight deck area with six helicopter landing points, one of which is capable of supporting a 33-ton helicopter.
The 1,800-square-metre hangar deck can hold 16 helicopters, and includes a maintenance area with an overhead crane.
To aid launch and recovery, a DRBN-38A Decca Bridgemaster E250 landing radar and an Optical Landing System are used.
The flight and hangar decks are connected by two aircraft lifts, each capable of lifting 13 tonnes. The main lift is located near the stern of the ship and the secondary lift is at the rear of the island superstructure.
The ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser is powered by three Vartsila 16 V 32 engines that provide 8,300 horsepower each, helping the ship to reach a maximum speed of nearly 19 knots and a range of up to 10,800 nautical miles. At 15 knots the range can be increased to 19,800 nautical miles.
The ship’s amphibious landing area covers 2,650 square meters. It can hold 40 main battle tanks or dozens of trucks and light armored vehicles and a large number of troops. The vessel uses four mechanized landing craft or two hovercraft in the stern deck to deliver troops and vehicles ashore.
The ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser provides accommodation for 450 troops on longer campaigns, while for short-term campaigns that can double to 900 troops. The ship is equipped with 69 hospital beds. Furthermore, the hangar can also be converted into a modular field hospital.
Egypt and France concluded the deal to acquire the two former Russian orders for around 950 million euros, including the cost of training Egyptian crews.
Because these carriers were ordered specifically for the needs of Russian helicopters, Cairo ordered 50 Russian Ka-52k, Ka-29 and Ka-31 helicopters. However, she can carry all types of helicopters serving the Egyptian military.
Sensor and Electronic systems
The ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser is equipped with the DCN Senit 9 derivative combat data system and is fitted with the French Navy’s SIC 21 command system for joint operations, which is developed by Thales.
SENIT 9 is based around Thales’ three-dimensional MRR 3D-NG Multi Role Radar, which operates on the C band and incorporates IFF capabilities. SENIT 9 can also be connected to NATO data exchange formats through Link 11, Link 16 and Link 22.
For communications, Mistral-class ships use the SYRACUSE satellite system, based on French satellites SYRACUSE 3-A and SYRACUSE 3-B which provide up to 45% of NATO’s Super High Frequency secured communications.
The two Egyptian Mistral-class ships are armed with different weapons from their French counterparts, including four AN/TWQ-1 Avenger mobile SAM systems, two twin-barrel A-220M 57mm guns as well as six-barrel AK-630M 30mm guns.
Recently, both Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar El Sadat have been actively participating in counterterrorism activities against extremist militants in Sinai. Helicopters are currently engaged in activities to “wipe out” militants along the Sinai coastline.
Nasser also participated in the “Medusa-6” military exercise, in cooperation with naval units from Cyprus and Greece. With the support of this helicopter carrier, the participants trialled interactions between ground, air and sea forces during amphibious operations.
Thus, these ships, originally built for Russia, are now being used actively in their new homeland for their intended purpose.
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