By John B. Sheldon
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is expected to sign a US$1.2 billion arms deal with French President François Hollande when the leader of France visits Cairo on April 18, according to French newspaper La Tribune.
Among the items in the deal is a military communications satellite for the Egyptian armed forces to be jointly built by Airbus Defence and Space, a subsidiary of the Airbus Group, and Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture of French company Thales and Italian company Finmeccanica, which recently rebranded as Leonardo. Neither Airbus Defence and Space or Thales Alenia Space would comment on the deal.
It is likely, however, that the Egyptian military communications satellite will be a Eurostar-3000 system like the two supplied by Airbus and Thales to YahSat in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). YahSat 1A and 1B are both Ka band communications satellites, and are outfitted for use by the UAE Armed Forces as well as for commercial purposes.
Egypt will also buy two Gowind 2500 corvettes and two advanced patrol boats as part of the French deal.
La Tribune reported in December 2015 that Egyptian military officials were in discussions with the French for the acquisition of a military communications satellite and a high-resolution Earth observation satellite. Reports at the time suggested that the discussions on these satellites ran into technical issues that could not be resolved quickly.
Further, in February 2016, Space News reported that the French Government had influenced officials at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva, Switzerland, to allow Egypt to keep an orbital and frequency slot that had expired because Cairo had failed to place a satellite in orbit within the required timeframe. This development has caused controversy within the ITU as it is perceived by others to be an unfortunate precedent that will allow other countries to reserve scarce orbital and frequency slots for years without placing operational satellites in them.
The new Franco-Egyptian deal to be signed in April does not include a high-resolution Earth observation satellite, however.
According to La Tribune, Egyptian officials balked at the price of the French Earth observation satellite that was on offer, and are said to be considering proposals for cheaper imaging systems from Russian and South Korean companies.
Russian Space Monitoring Systems, Information & Control and Electromechanical Complexes (VNIIEM) produces the Kanopus-V remote sensing satellite for export. The VNIIEM Kanopus-V has a panchromatic resolution of 2.1 metres, and is operated by Belarus and may be sold to Iran later this year.
RKK Energia, located in Korolev, Russia, near Moscow, has also exported high-resolution imaging satellites abroad, including the ill-fated EgyptSat-2 that failed in orbit in August 2015, and has not been contactable by the Egyptian National
Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSS) since then.
NPO Mashinostroenia (known as NPO Mash), located in Moscow, Russia, built its Kondor-E high-resolution reconnaissance satellite for the South African Ministry of Defence and was launched in December 2014, despite the political controversy in South Africa surrounding the allegedly murky acquisition of the satellite.
The Satrec Initiative, a company based in Daejeon, South Korea, also builds and exports high-resolution imaging satellites. Among its exports are RazakSAT for Malaysia, launched in 2009, and DubaiSat- 1 and -2 for the Emirates Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, now called the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Research Centre, in Dubai, UAE, launched in 2009 and 2013, respectively.
All of these companies were contacted by SpaceWatch Middle East, but none offered any comment.
Russian-made Earth observation satellites, as the EgyptSat-2 case attests, have suffered reliability problems over the years, whereas satellites built by the Satrec Initiative seem to have operated as originally planned.