Egypt has threatened to push Turkey out of Libya. But is that even possible?

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

Months ago it appeared as if the GNA was defeated. Haftar's LNA was on the brink of capturing Tripoli. However, to the surprise of everyone GNA suddenly made a comeback. Multiple Pantsir air defence systems were taken out, along with combat aircraft parked under hangars as well as hundreds of LNA positions. This counterattack has pushed the LNA far away from Tripoli, making it impossible for them to shell the city. Previously, indiscriminate shelling by the LNA killed civilians within Tripoli. With just Bayraktar TB2 armed drones, T-155 Firtina SPGs and T-122 MLRSs Turkey has been able to comfortably drive out the LNA which is backed by a coalition comprising of Egypt, UAE, France, Greece and others.

The Turkish onslaught has made Egypt anxious, sparking a reaction from Sisi. He has stated that the city of Sirte is a "red line" and that Egypt would unleash its military if Turkey attacks it. But the result of a Turkish-Egyptian conflict over Libya would be one-sided. The Egyptian military from a numbers perspective is the largest in the Middle East. It has over 900,000 military personnel and a lot of equipment across all of its branches. With two Mistral LHDs, M1 Abrams tanks, KA-52s, AH-64 Apaches and an assortment of combat jets, the Egyptian Armed Forces are formidable on paper. However, in a real conflict Egypt wouldn't perform as well as you'd think.

Egypt, despite having 20 million more people than Turkey has an economy less than one third the size of Turkey's. This alone is a major weakness for Egypt, however, it gets much worse. Egypt's entire arsenal of vehicles and weapons is a mess. A combination of American, French, Russian, Chinese and other equipment. This wouldn't be a problem in the 1950s, however, in today's world interoperability between military equipment is essential. Particularly in the air force. Having a combination of western and eastern vehicles means there will be problems with training, friend or foe identification and data sharing. Essentially meaning that the Egyptian military is unable to work as one whole cohesive force.

This whole mess is a result of an even bigger issue. The Egyptian military is funded by the oil-rich Gulf Arab states. To the Saudi's and the UAE, Egypt is a large and loyal ally which could aid them with their regional designs. While the KSA and UAE are much richer and could just expand their own militaries, Egypt's large Arab population and access to the Mediterranean mean it is a very attractive alternative. For this reason, they have pumped billions into Egypt for new military procurements. Meaning that the Egyptian military essentially serves as a huge mercenary force for the Gulf States. The Gulf States have long tried to strike up good relations with Russia while simultaneously maintaining good ties with the Western world. Hence why Egypt is continuing with deals to buy Russian fighters and tanks while also seeking various western arms including Italian frigates. In other words, the Egyptian military is an unplanned mess purely due to political reasons; a force which was never designed to fight effectively.

Egypt has a large fleet of F-16s. Yet they lack something very important. Beyond-visual-range fire-and-forget air-to-air missiles. Without missiles such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM, Egypt's F-16s are among the least potent in the world. Egyptian Falcons rely on the old AIM-7P Sparrow for air-to-air combat. The AIM-7P Sparrow uses semi-active radar homing, which requires the fighter to pursue the enemy aircraft in order to maintain continuous illumination until the missile hits it. In contrast, the AIM-120 AMRAAM is a fire-and-forget missile. Egypt's lack of AIM-120s means that its F-16s are essentially useless in air-to-air combat against a modern air force.

Egypt's military isn't only a mess on the hardware side. It also has a personnel problem. Don't let its 910,000 strong military fool you. This largely conscripted force isn't comparable to Israeli or Turkish conscripted forces. Most men don't see combat, let alone fire a single bullet for training purposes. Instead, they run errands for their commanders, sweep the floors and cook.

Meanwhile, Turkey has the second largest army in NATO. A massive, well-trained, highly motivated, heavily equipped military which coordinates complex cross-border operations all by itself. The Turkish Armed Forces is fuelled by a rapidly developing defence industry. Giving it the ability to not only supply itself but create an entirely new military doctrine at its own whim. This was made apparent with Turkey's recent use of drones, which has caught the attention of militaries across the world. For the first time in history, armed drones were used in squadrons. This odd use of armed drones combined with the ground-based jamming capabilities of the Koral electronic warfare system has perplexed all onlookers. Never before have drones inflicted hundreds of casualties in such a short period of time.

Most of Turkey's combat jet fleet consists of F-16s. These F-16s have been extensively modified. With constant bombing missions against PKK as well as mock dogfights, the Turkish Air Force undeniably has some of the most experienced fighter pilots in the world. The Turkish Air Force has used the Boeing 737 AEW&C effectively, giving its F-16s a major advantage during the clashes with Syria earlier in the year. As shown in recent drills, Turkey has the capability to bring its F-16s to Libya with its KC-135 Stratotankers.

Egypt's only realistic path to Sirte is through the north of Libya. Which makes their threat to send in M1 Abrams tanks a risky manoeuvre. Though LNA operated air defences can provide some cover, Turkish Air Force F-16s can strike convoys from outside the range of their air defences. Currently, Turkey uses Bayraktar TB2 drones for most combat missions, along with ANKA-S satellite controlled drones for when a larger combat radius is necessary. They aren't capable of reaching Sirte from Tripoli, however, things are about to change. Soon with the introduction of the Aksungur and Akinci drones, Turkey could strike Sirte and beyond from their base in Tripoli. As Turkey prepares more bases in recently captured territory it is possible that TB2 drones will start taking off further east.

All in all the Turkish Armed Forces is miles above Egypt's military. It is a serious force. Highly mobile, experienced and fully confident with acting on its own; Egypt would make a big mistake if it chose to fight Turkey in Libya. If Egypt does indeed enter Libya it'll likely be their biggest mistake since fighting Israel decades prior. However, it appears as if Egypt may be stepping away from their bold statements only days after making them. Indicating that Sisi's threats were empty from the start.

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