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Egypt Index

The army has always been the largest and most important branch of the armed forces. The army had an estimated strength of 320,000 in 1989. About 180,000 of these were conscripts. Before the June 1967 War, the army divided its personnel into four regional commands. After the 1967 debacle, the army was reorganized into two field armies--the Second Army and the Third Army, both of which were stationed in the eastern part of the country. Most of the remaining troops were stationed in the Nile Delta region, around the upper Nile, and along the Libyan border. These troops were organized into eight military districts. Commandos and paratroop units were stationed near Cairo under central control but could be transferred quickly to one of the field armies if needed. District commanders, who generally held the rank of major general, maintained liaisons with governors and other civil authorities on matters of domestic security.

The army's principal tactical formations in 1988 were believed to include four armored divisions (each with two armored brigades and one mechanized brigade); six mechanized infantry divisions (each with two mechanized brigades and one armored brigade); and two infantry divisions (each with two infantry brigades and one mechanized brigade). Independent brigades included four infantry brigades, three mechanized brigades, one armored brigade, two air mobile brigades, one paratroop brigade, and the Republican Guard armored brigade. These brigades were augmented by two heavy mortar brigades, fourteen artillery brigades, two surface-to-surface missile (SSM) regiments, and seven commando groups. Each consisted of about 1,000 men.

Although disposition of the forces was secret, foreign military observers estimated that five Egyptian divisions were in camps west of the Suez Canal while half a division was in Sinai. The Second Army was responsible for the area from the Mediterranean Sea to a point south of Ismailia; the Third Army was responsible from that point southward to the Red Sea. The government deployed the armies in this way partly because of a desire to protect the canal and the capital from a potential Israeli invasion and partly because the housing facilities and installations for the two armies had long been located in these areas. The commander of the Western District controlled armored forces supplemented by commando, artillery, and air defense units (possibly totaling the equivalent of a reinforced division) that were stationed at coastal towns in the west and in the Western Desert (also known as the Libyan Desert) facing Libya.

Even though the Egyptian military became oriented toward the West after the October 1973 War, it still had large amounts of Soviet equipment in its arms inventory. As of 1989, an estimated five of the twelve divisions and portions of other units had made the transition to American equipment and order of battle. The stock of main battle tanks consisted of 785 M60A3s from the United States, together with more than 1,600 Soviet-made T-54, T-55, and T-62 models. Some of these older Soviet tanks were being refitted in the West with 105mm guns, diesel engines, fire-control systems, and external armor. Armored personnel carriers (APCs) consisted of 1,000 M-113A2s from the United States, more than 1,000 BTR-50s and OT-62s from the Soviet Union, and about 200 Fahds, which were manufactured in Egypt based on a design from the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The army also had more than 700 infantry combat vehicles that were manufactured by the Soviet Union and Spain. Egypt also launched a program to increase the mobility of artillery and rockets by mounting them on the chassis of tanks and APCs.

The army possessed a variety of antitank rockets and missiles, including older Soviet models, Egyptian rocket systems derived from the Soviet ones, and Milan missiles from France, Swingfire missiles produced in Egypt under British license, and TOW (tube-launched, optically sighted, wire-guided) missiles from the United States. The army mounted the TOWs and Swingfires on locally built jeeps. A plan to add TOWs to Fahd APCs was still at the prototype stage (see table 13, Appendix).

During the 1980s, the armed forces implemented a program to improve the quality and efficiency of its defense system by introducing modern armaments while reducing the number of personnel. The army was expected to lose more personnel than the other branches of the military. The army, however, had little incentive to cut its enlisted strength because doing so would further reduce the need for officers, who were already in excess of available positions. Moreover, service in the army helped relieve the nation's unemployment situation and provided some soldiers with vocational training. Nevertheless, plans called for a reduction in army strength by as much as 25 percent.

During each of the wars with Israel, the army had demonstrated weaknesses in command relationships and communications. Under the influence of Soviet military doctrine, higher commanders had been reluctant to extend operational flexibility to brigade and battalion commanders. Rigidity in planning was another shortcoming. Commanders reacted slowly in battlefield situations; the system did not encourage initiative among frontline officers. Prior to the October 1973 War, the army made many improvements in the way it prepared officers for combat. Moreover, the complex planning that preceded the Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal and the execution of the initial attack demonstrated a high level of military competence. Later, however, when Israel launched its counterattack, the Egyptian high command reacted with hesitation and confusion, enabling Israel to gain the initiative in spite of determined Egyptian resistance.

Decision making in the army continued to be highly centralized during the 1980s. Officers below brigade level rarely made tactical decisions and required the approval of higher-ranking authorities before they modified any operations. Senior army officers were aware of this situation and began taking steps to encourage initiative at the lower levels of command.

A shortage of well-trained enlisted personnel became a serious problem for the army as it adopted increasingly complex weapons systems. Observers estimated in 1986 that 75 percent of all conscripts were illiterate when they entered the military and therefore faced serious obstacles when trying to learn how to use high-technology weaponry. Soldiers who had acquired even the most basic technical skills were eager to leave the army as soon as possible in search of higher-paying positions in the civilian sector. By United States standards, the army underutilized its noncommissioned officers (NCOs), many of whom were soldiers who had served a long time but had not shown any special aptitude. Officers with ranks as high as major often conducted training that would be carried out by NCOs in a Western army. In a move to retain welltrained NCOs, the army in the 1980s started providing career enlisted men with higher pay, more amenities, and improved living conditions.

The Frontier Corps, a lightly armed paramilitary unit of about 12,000 men, mostly beduins, was responsible for border surveillance, general peacekeeping, drug interdiction, and prevention of smuggling. In the late 1980s, the army equipped this force with remote sensors, night-vision binoculars, communications vehicles, and high-speed motorboats.

Data as of December 1990

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