Egypt receives first of two French Mistral warships

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt on Thursday received the first of two French Mistral helicopter carriers and said the second would arrive in September as part of a deal signed last year.

The two Mistral-class helicopter carriers Sevastopol (Bottom) and Vladivostok are seen at the STX Les Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard site in Saint-Nazaire, western France, May 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

France agreed last year to sell two Mistral helicopter carriers to Egypt for 950 million euros ($1 billion) after their sale to Russia was canceled last August.

“We now have advanced capabilities in confronting terrorism within our borders and on our shores,” Minister of Defence Sedky Sobhi said at a handover ceremony at Saint-Nazaire, Western France.

“It increases our combat capabilities and our ability to carry out long-term missions at sea...and we are awaiting on the arrival of the second in September,” he said.

Cairo has sought to boost its military power in the face of a two-year insurgency in northern Sinai and fears that the conflict in neighboring Libya could spill over.

The Mistral is known as the “Swiss army knife” of the French navy for its versatility. Equipped with missile defense and radar navigation systems, it can store up to 16 helicopters and has enough landing pads for six helicopters, according to Egyptian state television.

The warship, named Gamal Abdel Nasser after the second president of Egypt, is headed toward Alexandria where it is expected to arrive within weeks, state television said.

In April France signed separate deals worth about 2 billion euros ($2.26 billion) with Egypt during a visit by French President Francois Hollande to Cairo.

The deals included a contract for a military telecommunications satellite expected to be built by France’s Airbus Space Systems et Thales Alenia Space.

Egypt last year also acquired a French frigate as part of a 5.2 billion euro contract for 24 Rafale warplanes, France’s first overseas export of the fighter jet.

Reporting by Omar Fahmy; Writing by Eric Knecht; editing by Ralph Boulton