Arms race between Morocco and Algeria intensifies

The US Department of State announced in November that it approved a possible multibillion-dollar sale of AH-64E Apaches and related equipment to Morocco.
Sunday 05/01/2020
Crowded skies. Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jets perform during the MAKS-2019 International Aviation and Space Show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, last August.       (AP)
Crowded skies. Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jets perform during the MAKS-2019 International Aviation and Space Show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, last August. (AP)

CASABLANCA - The arms race between Morocco and Algeria is escalating amid deteriorating ties between the two North African countries despite Rabat’s calls to ease tensions.

Algiers reportedly signed contracts with Moscow to acquire 42 Sukhoi fighter jets. The Algerian Air Force signed contracts for 14 Su-34 bombers and 14 Su-35 fighters. An option for two other squadrons of 14 aircraft for each type was signed to compensate for the natural withdrawal of aircraft from the air force fleet in the future, Algerian defence website Menadefense.net stated.

Algeria signed another contract to acquire 14 Su-57 stealth fighters, the first customer to which the Russian aircraft manufacturer will export such jets, the website reported. The contract should be concluded by 2025.

The Algerian military plans to deploy two squadrons of Su-30MKA jets and one squadron each of Su-57s, Su-35s and Mig-29M2s. There are also plans for two squadrons of modernised Su-24s and one Su-34 squadron for the bomber fleet.

Military experts expressed scepticism over Algeria’s acquisition of the Su-57, saying the radar-evading jet has not completed flight testing and lacks key systems. No Russian official has confirmed the reported deal, raising further doubts about the Algerian defence website’s report.

The National Interest, a US magazine, reported that the Su-57 was not ready for export because development of the fighter was slowed by lack of funding and the collapse of Russia’s co-development and production deal with India.

Russian Army Chief of Staff and First Deputy Defence Minister General Valery Gerasimov said in December that the Su-57 was undergoing flight tests. An Su-57 crashed December 24 in Russia’s Far East during a test.

The reports came nine months after the United States approved a $3.8 billion sale of Block 70/72 F-16 fighter jets, equipped with state-of-the-art electronic systems and weaponry, to Morocco in addition to the modernisation of 23 F-16s already part of the Moroccan Air Force for $983 million.

Morocco was the largest Middle East and North Africa region customer for US arms in 2019, reported Forbes magazine. Washington agreed to arms deals with Rabat worth some $10.3 billion last year

Morocco is among 22 countries that are to acquire Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) from the Raytheon Missile Systems Company in a contract worth $768 million and which is to be completed by February 2023, the US Department of Defence said.

“The contract provides for the production of the AMRAAM missiles, captive air training missiles, guidance sections, AMRAAM telemetry system, spares and other production engineering support hardware,” the department in a news release December 27.

The US Department of State announced in November that it approved a possible multibillion-dollar sale of AH-64E Apaches, the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopters, and related equipment, including advanced Hellfire and Stinger missiles, to Morocco.

“The $4.25 billion sale of 36 Apache helicopters would also include 551 new and optional AGM-114R Hellfire missiles and 200 AIM-92H Stinger missiles, as well as 558 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) kits and myriad related equipment, support, training and logistics,” said the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in a news release.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that is an important force for political stability and economic progress in North Africa,” said the DSCA.

Moroccan arms expert Abderrahmane Mekkaoui told news site Le360.ma that the US arms sale to Morocco advances the interests of both Rabat and Washington.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune insisted that Algeria would not open its borders with Morocco unless Rabat apologised to the Algerian people for

“violating their dignity.”

Algeria closed its border with Morocco in 1994 after Rabat accused Algerian intelligence services of complicity in the deadly attack on the Atlas Asni hotel in Marrakech.

Tebboune’s declaration dashed hopes for improved relations after Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s called for “the opening of a new page in relations between the two neighbouring countries, based on mutual trust and constructive dialogue.”

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