Following the revelation that it planned to manufacture 40,000 122mm Sakr-45 rockets for Russia, Egypt has reportedly agreed to produce artillery shells that the United States will buy for Ukraine. But Cairo’s arsenal of modern Russian military hardware, especially its MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and S-300VM air defense missiles, are what Kyiv really needs right now.
Leaked Pentagon files seen by the Washington Post revealed that Egypt secretly planned to supply Russia with 40,000 indigenously produced rockets, artillery shells, and gunpowder. However, it suspended that plan in early March and approved the sale of artillery for Ukraine following talks with senior U.S. officials. The U.S. will buy the 152mm and 155mm artillery rounds produced in Egypt and transfer them to Ukraine.
Ukraine would undoubtedly welcome an influx of Egyptian artillery, especially as it prepares a new offensive against Russian forces, which will undoubtedly include large artillery duels. But Egypt’s more high-end Russian-built weapons systems are what Kyiv really needs as the high-altitude air defenses it has relied on to deter the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) are reportedly running dangerously low.
In early April, the New York Times cited another leaked Pentagon document issued on Feb. 28 that estimated that Ukraine’s S-300 and Buk air defense missiles, Kyiv’s primary defense against Russian jets, could become depleted by mid-April or May 3. Depletion of Ukrainian high-altitude air defenses could enable the VKS to send jets and bombers into Ukrainian airspace and tip the balance in Moscow’s favor.
VKS fighter jets and bombers — which are both more numerous and more advanced than those of the Ukrainian Air Force — could devastate Ukrainian ground forces and cities if they no longer have significant numbers of high-altitude ground-based air defenses to worry about. That could cause more widespread destruction than the missile and drone strikes Russia has hitherto relied on instead of airstrikes for much of this war.
A Ukrainian MP has acknowledged the shortage of S-300s but argued the system is no longer “the main air defense system for us.” Instead, Kyiv has repeatedly insisted that it requires F-16s for air defense, the Biden administration disagrees.
Ukraine is receiving MIM-104 Patriot batteries from the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands. However, the small numbers of batteries will only likely protect Kyiv and other major cities rather than deter Russian airstrikes across most of the country. Supplies of other missiles from Ukraine’s western allies, such as NASAMs, IRIS-T, and older MIM-23 Hawk missiles, will help, but they won’t likely be enough to close off most of Ukrainian airspace to the VKS.
Ukraine’s insistence on F-16 fighter jets above all else for its air defense is curious. Ukraine’s older but sturdier, Soviet-inherited MiG-29 Fulcrums and Su-27 Flankers survived in large part because Kyiv adeptly dispersed them to smaller makeshift runways to survive Russian air and missile strikes against the country’s main airbases early in the war. F-16s are unsuited for operations from such makeshift runways due to hazards posed by foreign object debris, potentially making them more vulnerable to destruction on the ground. Dispersal of its fighters will remain essential for their survival if Kyiv runs out of much of its existing air defense missiles.
That’s where Egypt’s stockpile could come in handy. Cairo’s Fulcrums are much newer and advanced than Ukraine’s earlier variants and likely more advanced than the MiG-29s Poland and Slovakia are transferring. Armed with R-77-1 air-to-air missiles, which are far superior to Ukraine’s Soviet-era air-to-air missiles, MiG-29M/M2s could pose a formidable threat to any Russian fighters or bombers violating Ukrainian airspace, as could the S-300VM. The later systems is far newer and more advanced than Kyiv’s earlier models or Greece’s S-300 PMU-1s, which Athens refuses to transfer.
With the U.S. likely to finally supply Egypt F-15s and beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs) for its air force, Cairo will have less need for its Russian jets. If the U.S. purchased them and the S-300VMs and transferred them to Ukraine, that would be an ideal interim solution to ensure Ukrainian air defenses don’t collapse and prevent Russia from gaining a much-needed strategic advantage.
Washington could entice Cairo by offering to backfill the MiG-29 fleet with fast-tracked deliveries of long-coveted F-15s and AIM-120 BVRAAMs. A similar arrangement was initially proposed in April 2022.
While such a solution may be ideal in the short to medium-term, Egypt will undoubtedly prove highly reluctant to antagonize Russia, which would doubtlessly condemn such an arrangement. While Cairo undoubtedly has less need for Russian armaments than it did a decade ago, Moscow remains a major supplier of food that Cairo can ill-afford to antagonize. That was likely, as previously speculated in this space, one reason Egypt planned on selling it rockets, which it might still go through with at some later date.
Still, becoming a new source of artillery shells for Ukraine is a whole lot better than nothing.
Source : Forbes