July 31 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department approved the potential sale of a $554 million package of technical support for the Egyptian Navy.
The package calls for technical and maintenance support, known as Follow-On Technical Support, of various U.S.-made ships in the Egyptian fleet. The contract, announced on Tuesday, specifically mentions that the sale is essential to "maintain Egypt's national security, regional stability and the free flow of worldwide commerce via the Suez Canal."
Egypt's navy is the sixth-largest in the world, measured by the number of ships and is charged with protection of the coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. It maintains two fleets, one for each of the seas, and includes ships, aircraft, submarines, amphibious craft and patrol forces.
Recent hostile actions by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman have caused concerns in Egypt. Military strategists are seeking to reinforce security in the Red Sea for better protection of maritime movement through Egypt's Suez Canal.
"Iran will most likely use the Houthi militia [in Yemen] to threaten the maritime movement in the region," said Tarek Fahmi, a Cairo University professor. "The Houthis are Iran's arm in this part of the world."
Houthis attacked two Saudi oil tankers off Yemen's Red Sea coast in July 2018, forcing Saudi Arabia to halt oil shipments. In July 2018, the Houthis attacked two Saudi oil tankers off Yemen's Red Sea coast, forcing Saudi Arabia to halt oil shipments. It led Egypt to increase its presence at the southern entrance of the Red Sea and increase spending on modernization of its navy. Cairo has invested billions of dollars in helicopter carriers and speedboats from France and new submarines from Germany.
The request by Egypt announced on Tuesday calls for material and support of the country's four Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, its four fast missile craft, its four mine hunter ships, and nine fast patrol craft. The prime contractor is VSE Corp., headquartered in Virginia.
Egypt has other maritime craft made by France, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Poland, China, Britain, Italy and the Soviet Union, as well as several craft made in Egypt.