The United States has offered to sell Egypt F-15 Eagle fighter jets, after what a senior US military official said was a long, hard slog.
“In the case of Egypt, I think we have good news in that we’re going to provide them with F-15s, which was a long, hard slog,” General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said during a congressional hearing. “They felt it was too long, it took too long.”
“That’s the basic criticism of our ability to provide weapons to our friends and partners: it takes too long to get them,” McKenzie said in response to a question by Senator Tommy Tuberville during a hearing on 16 March.
McKenzie did not provide further details. Any potential sale will still have to go through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process, and be approved by US lawmakers, including in the State Department and Congress. The next step would be a formal notification from the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).
It appears the F-15 offer is coming on the heels of Egypt abandoning its Su-35 deal with Russia. The North African nation ordered two dozen Su-35s in 2018 and at least 11 were manufactured but not delivered, apparently because the Egyptians were unhappy with the performance of the aircraft’s Irbis-E radar, which was easily overpowered by the electronic countermeasures of its Rafale jets. Pressure from the US, including US sanctions against nations ordering Russian equipment, are also believed to have been a factor.
Egypt did, however, receive 50 MiG-29M/M2 aircraft from Russia between 2017 and 2020, along with R-73 and R-77 air-to-air missiles. Two additional MiG-29s were delivered in 2020 to replace crashed aircraft.
News of the F-15 sale comes on the heels of a deal to sell 12 Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules to Egypt passing through the US Senate last week. The Senate voted 81 for and 18 against the $2.2 billion deal on 10 March, after Republican Senator Rand Paul and some progressive democrats attempted to halt the sale over human rights concerns.
The US State Department said it had approved the possible foreign military sales of the C-130Js as well as air defence radars worth $355 million on 25 January, with the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notifying Congress that same day.
Shortly after the proposed aircraft and radar sales were announced, President Joe Biden’s administration said it would deny $130 million of military aid, or 10% of the total allocated to Egypt, if the country did not address human rights concerns. Egypt has since released several high-profile political prisoners, but Democratic members of Congress believe more still needs to be done as tens of thousands of political prisoners remain in Egyptian prisons.
Egypt will be getting $1.3 billion in military aid from the United States this year but the United States may still withhold $235 million of military aid to Egypt.
Last month, during a visit to Cairo, McKenzie had said that Egypt would receive “very robust” military assistance despite the decision to withhold the $130 million in aid. “We’re still very heavily engaged with them,” McKenzie added.
Whether the F-15 sale to Egypt goes ahead remains to be seen, as there is still stiff resistance to supplying the country with military equipment due to its human rights record. The C-130J sale was helped by the fact that the aircraft have no offensive capabilities, but this is not the case with the F-15s.
The Egyptian Air Force has made a lot of effort to diversify its equipment, and operates fighters from different sources, including F-16s, Rafales, Mirage 2000s, and MiG-29s. It has for many years expressed interest in acquiring F-15s, but the United States has until now been reluctant to supply these.