On March 2008, I reported on Morocco’s purchase of 24 F-16 Block 52+ fighter jets from Lockheed Martin at a cost of $2.4 billion dollars (read it here). The purchase was in response to Algeria’s March 2006 $8 billion military and technical cooperation agreement with Russia $1.3 billion of which was allotted for the purchase of 29 single-seater MiG-29SMT fighters and six two-seater MiG-29UB fighters. Algeria terminated the contract in 2007 upon receipt of the first batch of MiG-29s which, after a technical inspection, were deemed defective and of inferior quality than stipulated. To redeem itself, Russia renegotiated the contract and offered Algeria new MiG-35 Fulcrum fighter aircraft and 16 Su-30 Flanker fighters. The Russian government also approved a $2.5 billion contract between Irkut Corporation and the Algerian government to supply the latter with 28 Su-30MKA fighters by 2010. In June 2009, The Algerian ministry of defense signed a contract with Agusta Westland, an Italian company of the Finmeccanica Group, to purchase 100 helicopters of various nomenclatures for its gendarmerie, police, and civil protection agency. The Finmeccanica Group is already committed to equip the Algerian navy with 6 AW101s helicopters and 4 Super Lynx 300 MK 130.
On September 9, 2009, Morocco was able to secure congressional approval for the purchase of support equipment and weapons for the F-16C/D Block 50/52 in conjunction with its F-16 contract with Lockheed Martin. The package is valued at $187 million and includes 28 AGM-65D Maverick missiles, a tactical, air-to-surface guided missile designed for close air support, interdiction, and defense suppression mission against a variety of tactical targets. It is developed by Hughes Aircraft and Raytheon. An F-16 can carry up to 6 Mavericks. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a government entity that promotes military-to-military contacts in support of U.S. foreign policy and national security interests, has indicated that Morocco was also approved for the purchase of 28 M-61 vulcan cannons, a Gatling-style rotary gun produced by General Dynamics, and 60 enhanced Guided Bomb Unit-12 (GBU-12) Paveway II, a laser guided bomb (LGB) that utilizes a Mk82 500-pound general purpose warhead. Additionally, Morocco requested the installation of communications, air combat pods, targeting pods, ground stations, night vision goggles (NVGs), joint mission planning systems, and radar warning receivers. This latest procurement will increase the interoperability between the U.S. and Morocco and enhance asset capabilities in bi-lateral terrorism prevention operations in the region.
Earlier this year, a Moroccan air force delegation led by Colonel M’hamed Saufi toured Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Personnel from Morocco’s Royal Air Force are currently being trained at Luke’s and 162nd Fighter Wing airbase in Tucson, Arizona on the mission support, maintenance of F-16 and the organizational elements involved in the base operations of a fighter wing, i.e., civil engineers and fire department, communications, logistics readiness, security forces, and base services. Morocco is currently building an air force base specifically designed to support F-16 operations.
It is worth noting that, with $5.4 billion worth of arms contracts, Morocco is the third top-buyer of military hardware and weaponry in the developing world in 2008, surpassed only by United Arab Emirates, with $9.7 billion in arms deals, and Saudi Arabia, with $8.7 billion. The United States holds 70.1 percent of the arms market; its arms sales in 2008 totaled $29.6 billion. Russia comes in a far second with $3.3 billion.
Considering that Morocco and Algeria are embroiled in a diplomatic dispute over “Western Sahara,” analysts are voicing serious concerns that the two countries are gearing up for an arms race that will upset the delicate status quo balance of the increasingly bifurcated Maghreb.
A. T. B. Copyright © 2009