Royal Moroccan Air Force

Moroccan Air Force.png

The Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF) (Arabic: القوات الجوية الملكية المغربية ; transliterated: ‘al-Quwwat al-Jawwiyah al-Malakiyah al-Maghribiyah; French: Forces Royales Air) is the air force branch of the Moroccan Armed Forces.

The Moroccan air force was formed on November 19, 1956 as the “Aviation Royale Chérifienne” (Sherifian Royal Aviation).

Its modern installations and bases were inherited from France (Meknes, Rabat {in tandem with the United States}, Marrakech), the United States (Rabat {in tandem with France}, Kenitra, Benguérir, Boulhault, Nouasser and Sidi Slimane) and Spain (Laayoune).

The first acquisitions of this newly formed air force were six Morane-Saulnier MS-500 Criquets, three Max Holste MH.1521 Broussard transport aircraft, two Beechcraft Twin Bonanzas, a de Havilland DH.114 Heron and a Bell 47G helicopter.

In 1961, it changed its name to “Force Aérienne Royale Marocaine” (Royal Moroccan Air Force), a designation used to the present day. In the same period, it obtained 12 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 fighters, two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15UTI trainers and four Ilyushin Il-28 bombers from the Soviet Union (USSR). 24 Fouga Magister training aircraft were also received from France.

The political rift with the USSR pushed Morocco to seek a new ally in the United States, acquiring from the latter 6 Northrop F-5 combat aircraft (4 single-seat F-5A and 2 two-seat F-5B) and another 20 F-5A and 4 F-5B in 1966. Transport aircraft acquired at the time included 10 Douglas C-47 Skytrains, 18 Fairchild C-119Gs and six Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The helicopter fleet was composed of 24 Augusta-Bell AB205As, and 12 North American T-6 Texans were used for pilot training.

The next modernization of the Moroccan Air Force took place just before the Sahara conflict, with the acquisition of Mirage F-1CH attack aircraft, Beech T-34C Mentor training aircraft, Aerospatiale Puma helicopters, and new Hercules transport aircraft to substitute the older units. Modernization of Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter with improved technology (Tiger II) and the purchase of 24 Alpha Jet E would later be bought by the RMAF, another modernization of the fleet of Dassault Mirage F1 was achieved in 1996 and 1997.

During the 90’s there were plans for purchasing Mirage 2000 or F-16 fighter aircraft, however due to unavailable funding they were not realized. Currently, and possibly as a result of the Algerian negotiations with Russia to purchase MiG-29 and SU-30MKA attack aircraft, the Royal Moroccan Air Force started to modernize its ageing fleet.

Modernization in the 21st century

The Royal Moroccan Air Force started a progressive modernization program of its ageing fleet and their technical and operational capacities. In 2007, Morocco formally requested 24 T-6B Texan trainer aircraft, with very secondary light attack capability. 24 F-16C/D Block 52+ aircraft as well as associated equipment and services, with:

  • F100-PW-229 Enhanced Engine Package (EEP) turbofan engines
  • AN/APG-68V9 radars
  • conformal fuel tanks (CFTs).

Later, from 2008 to 2012 the RMAF purchased the most advanced equipment for its F-16 fleet:

  • Advanced countermeasures electronic systems (ACES).
  • Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS).
  • AN/AVS-9 night vision goggles.
  • AN/APX-113 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) Systems.
  • AN/ALQ-187 Advanced Self-Protection Integrated Suites (ASPIS II).
  • AN/ALR-93 radar warning receivers.
  • DB-110 airborne reconnaissance pods.
  • AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods (ATPs).

Advanced armament was also acquired:

  • AIM-120 C7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to Air Missiles (AMRAAM).
  • AIM-9M and AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder short range air-to-air missiles.
  • AGM-88B/C HARM Missiles.
  • AGM-65D/G/H MAVERICK Missiles.
  • Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kits.
  • GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-10 Paveway II and GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guidance and fin kits to convert 2,000 pound bombs.

The RMAF also started the MF2000 Dassault Mirage F1 upgrade program, which has upgraded 27 Mirage F1s (F1CH, F1EH and F1EH-200) to the level of Mirage 2000-5 to improve survivability for the MF2000, that included :

  • The replacement of the old Thomson-CSF Cyrano IV radar by Thales RC400 (RDY-3).
  • 4% thrust boost and longer life through a new compressor module for the SNECMA Atar 9K50 engines.
  • New cockpit Layout with Two LCD multifunction, a Head-Up Display with UFCP (Up Front Control Panel), two LCD multifunction, Two mini-LCD (to RWR and artificial horizon) and full HOTAS controls.
  • Inertial-aided GPS Navigator Sagem Sigma 95.
  • CN2H-AA Mk II Night-Vision Goggles.
  • Modern Zero-zero ejection seat.
  • New electronics:
    • New weapons management system
    • Advanced Thales Radar-warning system
    • New Data Link
    • Improved communications-system
    • Two Dynamic task computer-integrated with a 1553 bus

The upgrade enabled the use of more advanced equipment as:

  • Corail flare launchers
  • Phimat chaff dispensers
  • Electronic protection-Pod PAJ-FA ECM
  • Thales Damocles Pod.
  • Capability to carry Advanced Air-to-air missiles, Air-to-ground missiles and guided-bombs :
    • Matra R550 Magic-II & MICA IR/EM Air-to-air missiles
    • Armement Air-Sol Modulaire (AASM) GPS-guided bombs.
    • AM39 Exocet Air-to-sea missiles.
    • ARMAT anti-radar missile
    • Paveway Laser-guided bombs

Before all those upgrades, Improvements to F-5A/B were realised with the installation of “Tiger II” avionics on, probably, 8 F-5A and 2 F-5B. A contract was stipulated with the French company Sogerma at Bordeaux (France), all aircraft were received by 1998. From 2001 to 2004 the RMAF’s F-5E/F received a full refurbishment and upgrade from SOGERMA and Lahav (IAI). The upgraded improved the performance of the “Tiger II” to the level of the “Tiger III”. The work carried up included:

  • new FIAR Grifo F/X Plus improved radar (similar in performance to the AN/APG-69)
  • Elettronica ELT/555 active Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) pods.
  • HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick)
  • New EWPS/-100 (DM/A-104) RWR
  • Cockpit Layout with new:
    • heads-up display
    • Weapons Delivery and Navigation System MFD/WDNS
    • Multifunction displays

The F-5E/F TIII acquired the capability to use new weapon systems such as Beyond Visual Range missiles and precise-guided weapons. RADA ACE ground debriefing station, a Simulator and AN/AAQ-28(V) LITENING targeting pods have also been purchased.

In 2008, 4 C-27J Spartan tactical transport aircraft were also purchased from Finmeccanica subsidiary Alenia Aeronautica, and the advanced trainer and CAS/COIN aircraft Alpha Jet E fleet started the upgraded to the “E+ standard”. One year later, 3 CH-47D were requested, to be added to the 9 CH-47C in service, delivered from 1979 to 1982 (originally 12 were acquired). General Atomics received in 2010 export licenses to sell an unarmed export version of the Predator to Morocco. Six aerial firefighting Bombardier 415 Superscooper were also purchased in 2011. It’s also important the modernization and upgrade of the former US Air Force base in Ben Guerir Air Base to support its F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. In March 2013, it has been confirmed that the RMAF have purchassed from France at least 3 MALE UAVs Dassault/IAI Heron.

More purchases are expected or under negotiation according to some sources:

  • During Marrakech AeroExpo’12, local and French sources detailed the interest of the RMAF in the C-17A tactical airlifters to replace some C-130H, and the KC-135 Stratotankers for F-16’s aerial refuelling.
  • Another source established an unconfirmed purchase of 12 Eurocopter EC725 for the RMAF.
  • Unclassified US documents established a pending or prospective purchase of an unknown number of SH-60 Seahawk.
  • French sources confirm the interest of the RMAF to buy or recive as cession 3 Mirage F1B
  • 3 CH-47 Chinook under negotiations.


Six-Day War

It’s not clear if a Squadron of Northrop F-5 participated in the Six-Day War, been transferred to the EAF and participating only for air patrol behind the scenes.

Yom Kippur War

During the Yom Kippur War a Squadron of Moroccan Air Force Northrop F-5A joined the Egyptian 69 Squadron at Tanta on 19 October 1973. At least 14 MiG-17s and also around a dozen of F-5As were deployed. The F-5As arrived after a lengthy trip, via Algeria, Tunis and Libya, accompanied by Lockheed C-130 Hercules transports that carried spare parts, weapons, and equipment. Moroccans started flying tasked with CAP missions over the Nile Delta. In January 1974 two F-5As armed with AIM-9B and 20mm cannons, intercepted a pair of IAF Mirage IIICs on a reconnaissance mission. As the Israelis turned away once the F-5As became evident, dragging both RMAFs fighters behind them, concerned about a possible ambush by IAFs F-4E Phantom IIs the EAF mission control ordered both Moroccan Fighters to return, replacing them by two EAF MiG-21MFs.

Western Sahara War

At the beginning of the conflict, Fouga Magister (based at Laayoune) and North American T-6 Texan (based at Ad Dhakla) were initially in ground support mission and night attacks. Later on, the F-5 aircraft were thrown into action, to strike against POLISARIO targets. From the beginning, the objective of Morocco was to create a controlled and safe zone in the area considered as “useful” for its political and economic interests, that is, the Capital Al-Aaiun, the religious center Smara, and the phosphate field of Bu-Craa.

In 1980 construction of the Sahara defensive walls began, consisting of every type of obstacles for infantry and armoured vehicles, such as mines and radars, all backed by Quick Intervention Units (Détachements d’Intervention Rapide) able to move to and quickly reinforce every location along the wall, aided by air-transport composed of Super Puma, AB-205 and CH-47 Chinook helicopters. As to the anti-tank defenses, it was decided additionally to use Aérospatiale SA 342 Gazelle helicopters with TOW missiles to neutralize the POLISARIO T-54, T-55 and BMP tanks. And apart from the ground radars of the Wall, two C-130 Hercules with SLAR system were also used for the detection of enemy units.

After the loss of 1 F-5A and 2 RF-5A in the battles, 20 F-5E “Tiger II” and 4 F-5F were acquired. The main problem that faced the F-5 in Western Sahara was its insufficient range to realize missions in depth in the vast battlefield of the Sahara desert. To minimize this problem, a B.707-138B fitted with Beech hose units at the wingtips for refuelling of and 2 Lockheed KC-130H were also delivered beginning 1982 to provide the Moroccan “Tiger II” with air-to-air refueling, and consequently increase their attack range.

The Mirage F-1 were responsible of defending the air-space against a possible Libyan or Algerian attack, whose governments supported both financially, military and politically the Polisario Front, since the beginning of the conflict.

In 1977, the Moroccan Mirage pilots started their training in an Air-force base located in Orange, France. In this same year, the Moroccan Air Force started receiving its first Mirage F-1C fighters. Libya and Algeria did not attack Morocco, and consequently Morocco destined its Mirages to ground-attack missions against POLISARIO. 3 Mirage Deliveries were received between 1978 and 1982. The first delivery were 30 Mirage F1-CH received between February and December 1978. The second one, was received between December 1979 and July 1982 and comprised 14 Mirage F1-EH. Between July 1980 and June a final delivery of 6 Mirage F-1EH-200 was received.

With the losses of Fouga Magister, the FARM decided to buy the United States a total of 24 Rockwell OV-10A from the Marine Corps. The first 6 aircraft were delivered, but with the early loss of one of them, the rest were transferred to a maritime patrol role due to their inefficiency in combat, the program was cancelled for the rest of the aircraft.


Updated – 09/20/2013


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