Much has already been written about which countries can give what systems, especially leftover Soviet-era platforms, to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia’s ferocious invasion. In March, Poland offered its fourth-generation MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets. Slovakia successfully transferring its S-300 air defense missile system to Ukraine and is currently contemplating giving Kyiv its 12 MiG-29s. As with its S-300 transfer, Bratislava wants guarantees of alternative protection for its airspace before seriously considering doing so. Patriot systems have already been deployed in place of the S-300 by Slovakia’s NATO allies. Those same allies could also deploy fighter jets until Slovakia eventually acquires replacements.
The central European country recognizes that it has an opportunity to simultaneously offload its older Russian military hardware and help its neighbor resist Russian aggression. Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger correctly pointed out that keeping its Soviet-built military hardware would be unsustainable in the long run, especially since the Russian supply chain has been crippled by sanctions and other factors since Feb. 24.
“After how the Russian Federation has behaved now, Soviet-made equipment is becoming very risky,” he said.
“Post-Soviet equipment is not sustainable without Russian supplies and we do not at this moment even want those.”
Many other operators of Russian military hardware are most likely coming to the same conclusion.
In a recent article for War on the Rocks, Dr. Jack Watling, a research fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute, suggested that Egypt’s advanced fleet of almost 50 MiG-29M/M2 Fulcrums could be transferred to Ukraine.
While a transfer of Egyptian Fulcrums to Ukraine is not, so far as is publicly known, being negotiated (and might well be a sensitive topic in Cairo given the close political and defense ties it forged with Russia in the past decade), it could, nevertheless, be beneficial to Cairo in more ways than one.
Watling notes that the advanced MiG-29Ms in the Egyptian arsenal are “the latest Russian standard, along with a compliment of R-77 active radar-guided missiles which Ukraine has repeatedly requested.”
He correctly pointed out that Egypt was unsatisfied with its more recent order of Su-35 ‘Super Flankers’ from Russia after recently testing them against its French-built Dassault Rafales and finding the French jets to be far superior.
“In consequence, it is probable the Egyptian Air Force would welcome a one-for-one replacement of its MiG-29Ms with U.S.-made F-16s,” Watling wrote. “Egypt already flies a substantial number of F-16s, and it already has the infrastructure for an expansion of its F-16 fleet.”
Such a deal could well be arranged if Egypt is willing to offload its more advanced Russian weapons systems, all of which it procured less than ten years ago. However, rather than additional F-16s, Cairo will more likely want to finally acquire F-15s, a procurement that would abolish its primary reasons for turning to Russia for advanced fighter jets in the first place.
Egypt first showed interest in MiG-29s in 2013, after that July’s infamous coup, as part of its efforts to lessen its heavy dependency on the U.S. by diversifying its sources of military hardware and even prepare itself to withstand U.S. sanctions or an arms embargo. Now, as the Slovakian prime minister pointed out, having such advanced Russian hardware could prove more trouble than its worth. Cairo may find it considerably more difficult to maintain these advanced jets now that the Russian supply chain will likely be severely disrupted for years to come. Offloading them now and helping Ukraine in the process could earn Cairo considerable goodwill in Washington, possibly including a fast-tracked delivery of F-15s.
Less than five years ago, Egypt was willing to run the risk of incurring U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) by procuring Su-35s because it desperately needed a fighter with long-range air-to-air missiles. While the U.S. sold Egypt a large fleet of F-16s over the past four decades, it never allowed Cairo to buy beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAM). Instead, Cairo had to make do with far inferior AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles rather than the formidable AIM-120 AMRAAM. To add insult to injury, Cairo was refused these missiles and F-15s as regional states – Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar – were allowed to buy both.
As a 2021 Washington Institute report noted, it was for these reasons Egypt viewed “the Su-35 deal as a bitter pill that it has opted to swallow to remedy its aerial inferiority.”
Nevertheless, the report added, Cairo recognized the severe challenges it would face integrating the Su-35 into its predominantly Western-supplied air force.
“After all, it is not possible for the U.S.-made aircraft that constitute the backbone of the Egyptian Air Force and Egypt’s U.S.-made early warning systems—namely the E2 Hawkeye AEW aircraft and C-130-Hs equipped with roll-on/roll-off electronic support measures equipment—to exchange data and communication with Russian-made systems,” the report noted. “These challenges will make Egypt’s Su-35 and MiG-29M2 fleet an air force within an air force, one that will operate almost autonomously and fly blind.”
Add to these severe shortcomings the disrupted Russian supply chain and maintenance issues caused by the Ukraine war mentioned above and Cairo’s evident disappointment with the Su-35, which lacks actively electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, and it appears clear that these systems are far more trouble than they are worth for the North African country. And now that Egypt finally has the option of procuring F-15s, it will no longer have any real need for them.
In March, General Frank McKenzie, the then-commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), said the U.S. would finally supply Egypt with F-15s after refusing to do so for over 40 years.
“In the case of Egypt, I think we have good news in that we are going to provide them with F-15s,” McKenzie revealed, adding that it had been “a long, hard slog” to finalize the sale.
While McKenzie did not provide any further details, Janes reasonably speculated that Cairo would likely receive “the latest Advanced Eagle variant that has previously been sold to Saudi Arabia as the F-15SA, to Qatar as the F-15QA, and to the U.S. Air Force (USAF) as the F-15EX.”
These aircraft, which can carry up to a whopping 12 AMRAAMs, would undoubtedly give Egypt the air-to-air capabilities it has long lacked and abolish the need for inferior Russian alternatives. Egypt could also avoid incurring any U.S. sanctions for dealing with the Russian defense sector and further cement the close defense ties it has had with the West since the late 1970s when Washington replaced Moscow as Cairo’s primary weapons supplier. Israel reportedly strongly supports an F-15 sale to its southern neighbor. Since Israel already operates advanced fifth-generation F-35I stealth jets, selling advanced F-15s to Egypt would not undermine its qualitative military edge (QME), which Washington is legally obligated to uphold.
Perhaps even more useful for Kyiv than Egypt’s sizable fleet of modern MiG-29s would be its advanced S-300VM batteries, also procured in the last decade, which are more advanced than the S-300s currently fielded by the Ukrainian armed forces. Cairo might be willing to transfer those if promised a U.S. replacement – perhaps additional PAC-3 Patriot missiles or even the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD).
Again, none of this might happen. And even if it does, it certainly wouldn’t be the most unprecedented development since Feb. 24.