Morocco receives first four F-16s

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The Royal Moroccan Air Force yesterday took delivery of the first four of 24 Lockheed Martin F-16s at a ceremony at Ben Guerir Air Base north of Marrakech. Senior representatives from the Moroccan and US governments and air forces were present for the historic event, which marks a milestone in the air force’s modernisation programme.

Major General Margaret Woodward of the US Air Force told reporters in Marrakech that another seven aircraft would be delivered at the beginning of next year and the remaining 13 in the following months.
“The delivery of these aircraft places Morocco among the very elite group of air forces of the world who operate the advanced multirole F-16,” said Ralph D Heath, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics business.

The first four Block 50/52 F-16s left Lockheed Martin’s factory in Fort Worth, Texas, at the beginning of this month. The first batch of four Moroccan F-16 pilots finished their 15 month training course in the United States in June. Six other Moroccan pilots are currently in the basic F-16 course in Tucson with graduation planned for September.

As students, the pilots averaged three sorties per week and accumulated more than 150 F-16 hours each. Now that they are 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. Ben Guerir 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.

Morocco is the 25th nation to order the F-16 – more than 4 400 have been built to date. In December 2009 it placed an US$841.9 million contract with Lockheed Martin for 18 single-seat F-16Cs and six two-seat F-16Ds.

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 Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF) signed the US$842 million contract in December 2009 for the Block 52 F-16s.
“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.

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. The Moroccan Air Force is also upgrading 27 of its Dassault Mirage F1s under the MF2000 project, which is giving them a capability similar to that of the Mirage 2000-5. The first upgraded aircraft flew in 2009.



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.