Mediterranean Remilitarization Context, Aspects, & Trends

When discussing the Mediterranean Sea‭, ‬two integral yet distinct realities must be considered‭. ‬The Mediterranean is a relatively‭ ‬small‭, ‬almost enclosed sea‭, ‬representing less than 1%‭ ‬of the Earth’s maritime expanse‭. ‬It stretches from the Gibraltar to the Levantine coast‭. ‬However‭, ‬it closely relates to all the surrounding lands‭, ‬forming a mosaic of nations‭, ‬peoples‭, ‬languages and religions‭, ‬making the Mediterranean maritime space a complex geographic unit and a gathering of intersecting and conflicting interests‭.‬

Moreover‭, ‬it serves as the meeting point of three continents‭ (‬Asia‭, ‬Africa‭, ‬and Europe‭), ‬three monotheistic religions‭, ‬and rich‭ ‬and poor nations‭. ‬

This human‭, ‬political‭, ‬cultural‭, ‬religious‭, ‬and economic mosaic has never been politically unified‭ (‬except for a brief period under the Roman Empire‭). ‬On the contrary‭, ‬the region’s history reveals a continuous series of conflicts in various forms‭, ‬pitting‭ ‬the east against the west‭, ‬the north against the south‭, ‬not to mention countless local conflicts‭.‬

Moreover‭, ‬the Mediterranean Sea constitutes one of the most geopolitically significant spaces in international relations‭. ‬This importance stems not only from its location at the crossroads of three continents but also as a passage connecting the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic‭, ‬serving as an energy route and a vital artery for international trade‭. ‬

Furthermore‭, ‬approximately 25%‭ ‬of global maritime navigation and 30%‭ ‬of oil movements pass through the Mediterranean Sea‭. ‬Recently‭, ‬substantial gas reserves‭, ‬especially in its eastern region‭, ‬have been discovered‭.‬

The objective of this study is to provide insights into the increasing presence of naval forces in this complex space in recent‭ ‬years and identify future trends‭. ‬To achieve this‭, ‬the study is divided into two parts‭: ‬the first sheds light on the context of‭ ‬the growing naval presence in the Mediterranean region‭. ‬The second part analyses the aspects and trends of the increasing naval‭ ‬presence in the Mediterranean region‭ (‬2024-2028‭).‬

Context of the Increasing Militarization of the Mediterranean

In this context‭, ‬major powers view the Mediterranean as a vital region that cannot be left unmonitored‭, ‬necessitating a continuous naval presence‭. ‬Key indicators include‭:‬

1‭.‬ Constant Presence of the U.S‭. ‬Sixth Fleet‭: ‬The continuous presence of the U.S‭. ‬Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean‭, ‬along with its‭ ‬military bases in several countries in the region‭.‬

2‭.‬ Russian Military Display and Presence‭: ‬Russia’s significant military display in January 2008‭ ‬in the Mediterranean‭, ‬showcasing its enduring naval presence primarily through its base in the Syrian Tartus and its expansion in recent years‭.‬

3‭.‬ Growing Chinese Maritime Presence‭: ‬The increasing maritime presence of China since its naval forces evacuated 60,000‭ ‬Chinese workers from Libya during the NATO intervention in the Arab Spring‭. ‬This presence has grown further with the region’s participation‭ ‬in the Belt and Road Initiative and the significant growth of Sino-Moroccan economic and trade relations‭, ‬especially with Algeria becoming China’s primary economic partner and the top importer of Chinese weapons in Africa‭.‬

4‭.‬ Joint Military Exercises‭: ‬Joint military exercises between Russia and China‭, ‬initiated in 2015‭ ‬in the Mediterranean‭.‬

The competition between China and the United States is palpable in the Mediterranean‭, ‬primarily in the economic and influential‭ ‬domains‭. ‬This is evident through China’s overall or partial impact on crucial Mediterranean ports‭, ‬including Piraeus‭, ‬Valencia‭, ‬Comport‭, ‬Malta‭, ‬Tangier‭, ‬and Genoa‭.‬

On the other hand‭, ‬latent conflicts among some Mediterranean coastal states‭, ‬occasional provocative stances by certain regional‭ ‬actors‭, ‬the maritime consequences of the war in Ukraine‭, ‬and the increasing challenges to Mediterranean security‭, ‬such as terrorist groups‭, ‬mercenaries‭, ‬and illegal migration‭, ‬have heightened tensions in the region‭.‬

For instance‭, ‬in response to Iranian attempts to deploy submarines in Syrian ports‭, ‬Israel reinforced its military presence in the Mediterranean‭, ‬deploying advanced early warning systems‭, ‬Iron Dome missile defence platforms‭, ‬and patrol boats‭.‬

Additionally‭, ‬Egypt established the‭ (‬3‭ ‬July‭) ‬naval base in the Gergoub region of Matrouh governorate‭, ‬serving as a focal point and launching centre for logistical support to Egyptian forces in the Mediterranean‭, ‬addressing any challenges and risks in the region‭, ‬particularly to protect the first nuclear power station near the base‭.‬

Aspects and Trends of Increasing Militarization in the Mediterranean‭ (‬2024-2028‭)‬

Observers note the escalating pace of naval armament and the growing naval presence in the Mediterranean through notable examples‭, ‬including‭:‬

1‭. ‬Egypt’s Naval Acquisitions‭: ‬Egypt’s recent acquisition of helicopter carriers‭, ‬submarines‭, ‬and multi-role frigates‭.‬

2‭. ‬Algeria’s Fleet Upgrade‭: ‬The modernization of Algeria’s fleet with frigates and submarines capable of launching cruise missiles‭.‬

3‭. ‬Turkish Naval Strengthening‭: ‬The enhancement of the Turkish fleet through the local construction of an aircraft carrier‭, ‬several frigates‭, ‬and the procurement of the latest generation of air-independent submarines from Germany‭.‬

Observations from the Previous Table‭:‬

1‭. ‬Algeria‭, ‬Türkiye‭, ‬and Egypt‭, ‬followed by Israel‭, ‬are the countries in the Mediterranean Basin set to increase and renew their‭ ‬naval forces between 2024‭ ‬and 2028‭.‬

2‭. ‬Greece is anticipated to face a shortage or ageing of its naval fleet between 2024‭ ‬and 2028‭, ‬followed by France and Italy‭.‬

On the other hand‭, ‬in 2024‭, ‬the fleets of the Mediterranean Sea divided into two groups‭: ‬those with an average age of less than‭ ‬15‭ ‬years‭ (‬France‭, ‬Algeria‭, ‬Egypt‭, ‬and Israel‭) ‬and those with an average age ranging between 22‭ ‬and 32‭ ‬years‭ (‬Italy‭, ‬Spain‭, ‬Türkiye‭, ‬and Greece‭). ‬

In 2028‭, ‬four years from now‭, ‬the trend towards renewal will accelerate‭, ‬especially for the Italian fleet‭ (‬reducing its average‭ ‬age by 11‭ ‬years‭), ‬the Turkish fleet‭ (‬reducing its average age by 10‭ ‬years‭), ‬and the Spanish fleet‭ (‬reducing its average age by 9‭ ‬years‭), ‬provided that the current acquisition and renewal programs are followed‭. ‬

In general‭, ‬within four years‭, ‬the average age of combat fleets in the Mediterranean will decrease from 20‭ ‬to 15‭ ‬years‭.‬

Russia continues to solidify its position in the Mediterranean‭. ‬In 2022‭, ‬Moscow conducted massive exercises‭, ‬overseen by Russian‭ ‬Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu‭, ‬who inspected naval drills in the eastern Mediterranean from the Syrian port of Tartus‭. ‬

According to Russian military expert Vladimir Gundarov‭, ‬this has created a unique situation in the Mediterranean‭, ‬hosting three‭ ‬carrier groups‭: ‬one Italian carrier continuously operating in the region‭, ‬while French and American carriers‭, ‬both nuclear-powered‭, ‬lead the other two groups‭. ‬

Additionally‭, ‬Russian missile ships arrived‭, ‬conducting military manoeuvres with Algeria in the western Mediterranean by the end‭ ‬of 2023‭. ‬

Furthermore‭, ‬a joint operations centre was established‭, ‬featuring officers from the Russian and Algerian navies‭, ‬alongside a maritime headquarters for managing naval cooperation between the two sides‭.‬


The shortage or ageing of weapons in the fleets of Western Mediterranean countries and their allies‭,‬‮ ‬and the increase and renewal in the fleets of Eastern and Southern Mediterranean countries and their allies‭,‬‮ ‬do not necessarily imply a short or medium-term superiority of the latter over their Western counterparts‭.‬

For instance‭, ‬heavy frigates with a payload exceeding 6000‭ ‬tons‭, ‬dedicated to anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare‭, ‬are only‭ ‬present in the fleets of Western Mediterranean countries‭: ‬France‭, ‬Italy‭, ‬and Spain‭ (‬25‭ ‬out of 28‭ ‬today‭, ‬and 32‭ ‬out of 36‭ ‬five years from now‭). ‬Additionally‭, ‬heavy frigates exceeding 6000‭ ‬tons are only found in the US Navy‭ (‬4‭ ‬or 6‭ ‬based primarily in Spain‭)‬‭ ‬and one British frigate in Gibraltar‭. ‬None of the lighter frigates in other Mediterranean naval forces possess sensors and weaponry similar to those of heavy frigates‭.‬

As of now‭, ‬the French‭, ‬Italian‭, ‬and Spanish navies alone constitute 40%‭ ‬of the leading ships in the Mediterranean fleets‭, ‬60%‭ ‬of‭ ‬the payload capacity‭, ‬90%‭ ‬of the heavy frigates‭, ‬and 75%‭ ‬of the aircraft carriers‭, ‬positioning them to secure the Mediterranean‭ ‬with relative ease‭, ‬through joint patrols in this semi-enclosed sea and exercise a deterrent presence‭, ‬provided Paris‭, ‬Rome‭, ‬and Madrid are in a state of close cooperation‭.‬

On the flip side‭, ‬both the East and South of the Mediterranean possess A2AD capabilities and enhanced coastal defences‭. ‬

Two-thirds of the attack submarines in the Mediterranean are in the fleets of Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries‭. ‬This‭ ‬means that while the naval forces of Eastern and Southern Mediterranean countries cannot challenge the fleets of Western Mediterranean countries and their allies in the high seas‭, ‬they can easily deny them access to the Eastern Mediterranean by turning the area into a‭ (‬lake‭) ‬within the range of their coastal defences‭, ‬submarines‭, ‬and ground-attack fighters armed with anti-ship missiles‭.‬

Some Western observers believe that the Algerian coast and the Eastern Mediterranean may once again become perilous maritime areas for the naval fleets of Western Mediterranean countries and their allies‭. ‬This is especially true when considering the presence of Russian Eskadra ships sailing in the Mediterranean‭, ‬distinguished by their supersonic missiles‭, ‬with the maritime impact of these missiles being ten times that of traditional missiles‭. ‬This may tempt some Eastern and Southern Mediterranean countries‭ ‬close to Russia to acquire them‭, ‬especially given the significant increase in military budgets for those countries in recent times‭.‬

»‬‭ ‬By‭: ‬Professor Wael Saleh
‭(‬Expert at Trends Research‭ & ‬Advisory Center‭)‬

Al Jundi

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