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First four F-16s depart for Morocco

altThe first four of 24 new Lockheed Martin Block 52 F-16s for the Royal Moroccan Air Force have left the factory in Fort Worth, Texas, for Morocco, where they will arrive later this week.

Lockheed Martin on Monday said the four jets had departed for Ben Guerir Air Base, which is a former US air base located about 36 miles (57 km) north of Marrakech and once used as a transatlantic abort landing site for the Space Shuttle. It is currently undergoing upgrades that, according to Moroccan officials, are modelled after US Air Force bases.

The first batch of Moroccan F-16 pilots finished their 15 month training course in the United States in June. The US Air National Guard said that four Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF) officers, who are former Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter pilots, concluded their instruction at the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport in Arizona. The unit is the international Lockheed Martin F-16 training unit and has provided training to some of the 25 countries around the world that have bought the F-16.

"We are modernizing our fleet and we've chosen the F-16, not only because it is a high-quality airplane, but also because of the close relationship we have with the United States," said Deputy Inspector of the Royal Moroccan Air Force, Brigadier General Abdelali Houari.

As students, the pilots averaged three sorties per week and accumulated more than 150 F-16 hours each. Once home, they will not only be responsible for training others, but will also be instrumental in standing up F-16 operations at Ben Guerir Air Base.

Six other Moroccan pilots are currently in the basic F-16 course in Tucson with graduation planned for September.

Morocco is in the process of upgrading its armed forces and is buying large amounts of military equipment, including fighters, trainer aircraft and frigates. As almost all significant combat equipment was acquired between 1978 and 1981, Morocco is moving ahead with an upgrade programme for its Mirage F1s and is also engaged in the acquisition of new equipment that will ensure the air arm remains credible and effective. The most important type is the F-16, which was designed to keep up with Algeria's purchase in 2007-2008 of 28 Su-30MKAs. The RMAF signed the US$842 million contract in December 2009 for the Block 52 F-16s.

The RMAF has around 60 warplanes and a substantial number of helicopters that are able to undertake combat operations as well as performing general support tasks. The air force’s inventory is being upgraded and swelled by new purchases, such as four Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan transport aircraft.

Meanwhile, in May Hawker Beechcraft announced it had delivered 12 of 24 T-6C turboprop trainers to the Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF). The T-6C is an improved version of the T-6B Texan II featuring key upgrades such as an integrated glass cockpit, advanced avionics suite and wing hard-points that can accommodate auxiliary fuel tanks or bombs. The RMAF ordered the airplanes under a US$185.3 million contract announced in September 2009. The T-6C is replacing the turboprop Beechcraft T-34 Mentor and Cessna T-37 Tweet jet trainers in RMAF service.
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