The arrival of the warship ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser (L1010) marks Egypt as the first (and only) African / Middle Eastern nation to field a viable aircraft carrier. The vessel is an amphibious assault ship / helicopter carrier built in France and originally intended for service with the Russian Navy. When the situation between Russia and Ukraine escalated with the Russian-directed takeover of Crimea, France faced mounting international political pressure to not deliver on its order of two helicopter carriers to the original customer. Therefore a deal was worked with Egypt to purchase the pair and both have since entered active service with the Egyptian Navy.
Russia originally placed its order for the amphibious assault ships in June of 2011 with the intention that France complete 60% of the vessel and Russian shipyards would handle the remainder. The French commitment was headed by STX France at Saint-Nazaire with the keel of Gamal Abdel Nasser laid down on February 1st, 2012. The warship was then launched on October 15th, 2013. United Shipbuilding Corporation of St. Petersburg was arranged to handle the remainder of the construction and the vessel was named "Vladivostok".
Sea trials were formally begun on March 5th, 2014 but the year also saw the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian War. In September, the French government suspended the deal with Russia and, by August of 2015, the two countries reached a financial agreement which ended the delivery of the two vessels to Russia. France then secured Egypt as an alternate buyer and the pair were adopted as "Gamel Abdel Nasser" and "Anwar El Sadat". The Egyptian Navy acquired ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser (L1010) on September 23rd, 2015 and delivery occurred in 2016. She was commissioned on June 2nd, 2016 and currently makes her homeport out of Alexandria, Egypt.
The amphibious assault ships are based on the French Mistral-class which were introduced with the French Navy in 2005. The vessels are not "true" aircraft carriers per se in that they only support the launching and retrieval of helicopter types from their long-running, straight-line flight decks. The island superstructure is offset to starboard in the traditional way while the deep hull design allows for the warship to carry all manner of war-making goods for ship-to-shore service in an amphibious assault. The crew complement numbers 310 standard operating personnel.
Displacement is 16,500 tonnes on empty and 21,300 tonnes under full loads. Overall length is 660 feet with a beam of 105 feet and draught down to 21 feet. Power is from 3 x Wartsila 16V32 engines delivering 8,300 horsepower each, driving the vessel to speeds of nearly 19 knots and a range out to 10,700 nautical miles. 2 x Rolls-Royce Mermaid azimuth thrusters provide fine-tuned maneuvering.
Full helicopter facilities are part of the design including the large-area flight deck and sub-deck hangar. Up to 16 heavy-class or 35 light-class rotary-wing systems can be supported with six launch pads reserved along the flight deck for landing and retrieval. At present (2016), the Egyptian Navy showcases a collection of Western helicopters including the American Kaman SH-2G "Super Seasprite", the British Westland "Sea King" and NHIndustries NH90 series and the French Aerospatiale "Gazelle". Both the Seasprite and Sea King are outfitted for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) sorties while the Gazelle is reserved for shoreline reconnaissance due to its light design. The Soviet/Russian Mil Mi-8 is also in play with the Egyptian Navy and reserved for ferrying infantry and supplies.
Of note is the Boeing AH-64 "Apache" attack helicopter appears on the badge of the Gamal Abdel Nasser.
In addition to the air arm, the vessel is stocked with boats and landing craft and can haul 2 x Landing Craft, Air-Cushioned systems. Up to forty Main Battle Tank (MBT) vehicles can also be stored along with 900 combat-ready personnel. Beyond its obvious value as a wartime vessel, ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser can also be used in humanitarian support missions due to its onboard space and medical facilities.
To date (2016), ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser has been able to take part in the Mediterranean-based "Cleopatra 2016" naval exercises involving elements of the Egyptian Navy as well as those of France. This has served the former quite well in training its crews and helicopter flight crews on the nuisances of amphibious assault support as well as helicopter carrier operation.
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