The Biden administration’s decision to sell 280 AIM-120C air-to-air missiles to Saudi
Arabia has kindled hopes in Egypt, which has been eyeing this Advanced Medium
Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) to equip its fleet of F-16s. Fresh reports indicate
that Washington is considering the sale of the AIM-120 AMRAAMs to Cairo, with certain “conditions”. Egypt’s F-16 fleet—the backbone of the country’s air force—is perhaps the most ineffective F-16 force worldwide. Despite upgrading the fleet to Block 40 and 52 standards, the United States has long denied Egypt air-to-air missiles with a range greater than 85 km, restricting Egypt’s long / medium air-to-air missile arsenal to the AIM-7 Sparrow and 35 km shorter ranged AIM-9 Sidewinders.
Shift in Thinking
The United States was said to have agreed to an Israeli request to restrict the capability and use of advanced air-to-air missiles to Jordan and ban their sale to the rest of the Arab world. But, now with the Abraham Accords, Israel’s existing relationship with Egypt has improved and the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made the first official prime ministerial visit this September to Cairo since 2010, meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Sharm el-Sheikh. The U.S. is also working to deepen Israel’s longstanding relationships with Egypt and Jordan –partners critical to the United States, Israel, and Palestinians alike. Defence observers opine that this new bonhomie could potentially expand the U.S. role as the dominant weapons supplier to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Several countries in the region such as Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Oman, and Turkey—operate the superior active radar AIM-120 AMRAAM. This system’s fire-and-forget capability allows the operator to maneuver freely after launch and possesses a publicized range that exceeds that of the AIM-7 Sparrow by an additional 20 km. Recently as on November 4, 2021, the State Department approved a sale to Saudi Arabia of up to 280 AIM-120C-7/C-8 AMRAAM and related equipment for an estimated cost of up to US$650 million.
Hopes have been high since the U.S. State Department early this year approved a potential foreign military sale (FMS) of rolling airframe missile (RAM) Block 2 tactical missiles to Egypt, and the latest green signal to sell AMRAAM to Riyadh. In addition to the 280 AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), the Saudi Arabia deal would include the sale of 596 missile launchers, as well as equipment for support and repairs. The Pentagon said the missiles would support Saudi Arabia’s Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets. If approved by Congress, it would be the first major foreign military sale to Riyadh since US President Joe Biden took office. Raytheon Missile Systems, which makes the AMRAAM, is meanwhile preparing to deliver the RAM missiles for Egypt’s navy.
In February this year, the U.S administration gave the go ahead to Egypt’s request to purchase up to 168 RIM-116C RAM Block 2 Tactical Missiles, and associated equipment at an estimated cost of US$197 million. Egypt will also get RAM Guided Missile Round Pack Tri-Pack shipping and storage containers, operator manuals as well as technical documentation. The proposed sale will support the Egyptian Navy’s Fast Missile Craft ships and provide significantly enhanced area defence capabilities over Egypt’s coastal areas and approaches to the Suez Canal,” a State Department spokesperson said. Egypt will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces since Egypt already operates previously procured RAM Block 1A missiles.
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