Feds plan to give Egypt armed-to-the-teeth ships

By Steve Peacock

The U.S. Senate has rejected an effort to crack down on U.S. taxpayer monies being forwarded to the violence-ridden nation of Egypt, and now the Obama administration is preparing to send more heavily armed, missile-equipped naval patrol ships to the interim government there.

For that purpose, Washington is hiring private contractors to make the transoceanic delivery on its behalf.

This shipment of Fast Missile Craft, or FMC, comes at a time when congressional interest in suspending U.S. military aid to Egypt had heated up – to the point there was a Senate proposal to cut it off. That aid, according to federal law, must be suspended in response to military coups.

But the White House refuses to designate the military overthrow of deposed President Mohamed Morsi as a coup, and therefore has expressed no more than a commitment to review U.S.-Egyptian aid.

The U.S. Senate this week shot down, 86-13, Sen. Rand Paul’s proposed amendment to the transportation spending bill that would have redirected “certain foreign assistance to the government of Egypt as a result of the July 3, 2013, military coup d’état.”

Paul specifically sought to shift some of those funds to critical domestic bridge projects.

The Senate’s rejection of the Paul amendment now leaves the administration and its congressional supporters relatively free to proceed with their plans, so long as funds are approved for the U.S. Military Sealift Command endeavor.

Procurement documents that WND located through routine database research show that the MSC is now arranging to outsource the delivery of two of the advanced naval craft, which the contractor will bring under its care somewhere “within 100 miles of Pensacola,” Fla.

According to a U.S. Navy description, “The primary mission of the FMC is to conduct independent and joint operations, primarily against armed surface adversaries” in and around “coastal waterways of the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea and, in particular, the Suez Canal.”

FMC are equipped with a variety of missiles as well as a Close-In Weapon System, which can detect and attack incoming anti-ship missiles. Each vessel holds a crew of 40 personnel.

Other armaments aboard the Fast Missile Craft, an Ambassador IV-Class patrol ship built by VT Halter Marine in the United States, include eight RGM-84L Boeing Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles, (SSM) Block II missiles, one 76mm Super Rapid gun, one MK31 Raytheon Rolling Airframe Missile system with MK49 guided missile launching system and a guided missile round pack that can support 21 canister-mounted missiles. Also one Raytheon MK15 Mod 21 Phalanx Block 1B 20mm close-in weapon system and two deck-mounted 7.62mm M60 machine guns.

The Harpoon missiles can travel in excess of 67 miles with high subsonic speeds carrying nearly 500 pounds of explosives.

The beginnings of the FMC program precede the recent controversy over the military coup. Indeed, the George W. Bush administration in 2003 first reached out to contractors in search of someone capable of executing the then-conceptual aid initiative for Egypt.

The U.S. Navy since has awarded over $800 million in contracts to VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, Miss., to carry out the Egypt FMC program. One already has been delivered, and the company in March 2010 had announced a $165 million contract to build a fourth FMC, slated for delivery by the end of 2013.

See the ship in action:

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The new document explicitly reveals that “Egyptian military” personnel must be permitted to board and accompany the contractor vessels when the massive cargo containers embark from Florida en route to Alexandria, Egypt.

The inclusion of Egyptian military representatives, who will be unarmed, is “to maintain cargo integrity for the voyage,” the solicitation says.

Two cargo containers each 200 feet long with a combined hauling capability of 1,600 metric tons will deliver FMCs to Egypt. Each FMC must have a quarter-billion-dollar insurance policy, payable to the U.S. government in the event of a disaster.

An MSC spokesperson said the solicitation documents that WND discovered are exactly what the public affairs office possesses, and therefore it is unable to offer more information.

“We just fulfill the charter” for the requested contractor ships, she said.

However, when pressed to elaborate on the project’s explicit plan to have the Egyptian military board the contractor vessels for the entirety of the voyage, the spokesperson referred WND’s inquiry to the Department of Defense, specifically the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. James Gregory told WND he had nothing to add to the information in the procurement documents.

The Heavylift Cargo Transport initiative – Solicitation no. N00033-13-R-5218 – is sensitive enough to require advance screening of crew personnel by the El Paso Intelligence Center, or EPIC, a multi-agency tactical operational unit.

The U.S. Department of Justice created EPIC in the ’70s primarily to support U.S.-Mexico border and counternarcotics operations. The center has since expanded its mission in support of law enforcement and counterintelligence initiatives from the local- to international level.

EPIC will be tasked with approving – or disapproving – contractor shipping-crew members.

Although MSC set an August 15 contractor bid-submission deadline, the solicitation emphasized that “funds are not currently available for this procurement. In the event funds remain unavailable, this procurement will be canceled without an award being made.”

In other Egypt-specific U.S. funding matters, a $10 billion aviation-support project at the U.S. Department of State continues work with contractors on how the government may divvy up these awards through the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, or INL.

Although Egypt is not the sole focus of this endeavor – which had been in the planning stages long before Morsi’s ouster – INL nonetheless has been eying Egypt as a possible target for counterdrug operations.

Current INL-contractor aviation activities are taking place in Central Florida, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Guatemala, and Iraq, it says.

“However, it is anticipated that performance may extend into other worldwide locations and the contractor(s) must be able to quickly extend operations to new locations on short notice, for limited duration. Recent examples of such include Sudan, Honduras, Malta, Libya, and Egypt.”

The Naval Surface Warfare Center said it intends to award a no-bid sole-source contract to Unified Industries, Inc., or UII, to train the Egyptian Air Force, or EAF, in technical measurements and calibration.

UII will provide subject matter consultation to EAF Metrology Engineering and Calibration Center, which is planning to build a facility at the Cairo West Air Base in Cairo. The Navy did not disclose an estimated contract cost.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, extended until August 15 the deadline for contractors to submit letters of interest in a project to improve the Egyptian university system.

And as WND reported in June, the USAID Higher Education Partnership Program hopes to bring together the government of Egypt, Egyptian institutions of higher learning and the private sector in a collaborative effort to meet the needs of this North African nation’s business community.

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