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US to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Egypt ahead of strategic dialogue

Washington is committed to a 'strong relationship' with Egypt amid regional unrest, says US embassy in Cairo
Each state-of-the-art F-16 costs up to $18 million (AFP)

The US embassy in Cairo says that Washington will deliver eight top-of-the-range fighter jets to Egypt this week.

The embassy, led by Ambassador Robert Beecroft, said in a statement on Wednesday that the F-16s will be flown directly to Egypt from the US, and will be integrated immediately into the Egyptian air force.

Major General Charles Hooper, the embassy’s senior defence official, said the jets would “provide a valuable capability that is needed during these times of regional instability.

“America’s commitment to a strong relationship with Egypt is demonstrated by continued cooperation and capability sharing between our two countries.  Extremists threaten regional security and these weapon systems provide a new tool to help Egypt fight terrorism.”

The announcement comes as Egyptian and US diplomats prepare to meet on 2 August for a day of strategic dialogue. First scheduled in 2013, the meeting has been postponed several times.

US President Barack Obama lifted a freeze on arms sales to Egypt this March, allowing a $1.3bn transfer of military aid to go ahead.

Last month, a US government committee approved a 2016 budget that includes the same amount of military aid to Egypt, despite a critical report prepared by the State Department that warned that “the overall trajectory of rights and democracy has been negative”.

Each unit of the state-of-the-art F-16 jets costs between $14mn and $18mn.

Lockheed Martin, the Maryland-based company that manufactures the planes, announced this week that it plans to lay off nearly 300 workers. Nevertheless, shares rose on Wednesday after the jet transfer was announced.  

Four more F-16s are scheduled to be delivered later this year, with the US continuing to provide follow-up support and training for pilots and ground crews.

Egypt has also sought to boost its air force with a purchase of up to $6bn worth of French Rafale fighters, which had remained on the shelf for years as numerous deals for the planes fell through.