While the government of President Pedro Sánchez is struggling to renew as much as possible the diminished military capabilities of the Spanish Armed Forces, Morocco is in the process of acquiring new combat aircraft and attack helicopters, a process which has been accelerated since mid-2018.
Recent purchases from third countries to increase Rabat's military power are not only in the area of military aircraft, but also in all areas of its arsenal of weapons, one of the largest in Africa. It covers everything from advanced air defence systems based on 3D radars, to short-, medium- and long-range missiles - ground-to-air, air-to-ground, air-to-air, counter-tank and anti-ship - battle tanks, heavy rolling stock recovery vehicles, rocket launchers, ammunition of all types and calibres, advanced radio equipment, state-of-the-art vision systems and a long list of others.
The Alaouite monarchy practices a policy of diversifying its sources of defence material supply and carries out a large part of its transactions through government-to-government agreements with France, China and Russia, to a lesser extent with South Africa, Austria and the United Kingdom and marginally with the Spanish defence industry. But its main supplier is the United States, whose companies supply Rabat with significant quantities of top-quality armaments.
In little more than a year and a half, the Trump Administration has authorized the sale of weapons systems to King Mohammed VI for a value of more than 12 billion dollars (10.68 billion euros), contracts that directly benefit the powerful American defense and aeronautical companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Orbital ATK, General Dynamics, McKinney, Chemring and Kaman Precision.
One of the most recent and largest purchase packages made by Morocco involves the expansion and renewal of the Royal Air Force's fleet of fighter planes. Rabat was given the go-ahead in March 2019 for the acquisition of 25 new F-16 C/D Block 72 fighters - the most advanced production version - which includes extensive new capacities and structural improvements.
As if this were not enough, the operation is complemented by the modernization of its current fleet of 23 F-16 C/Ds, which are being equipped by the powerful Lockheed Martin company with the advanced AESA APG-83 radar and the Link 16 military tactical communications system used by NATO countries. This is the military contract with the highest economic value in the history of the Royal Armed Forces, as it amounts to a total of 4,747.2 million dollars, 3,789 for the purchase of the 25 fighters and another 958.2 million for the modernization of the 23 already in service.
The purchase includes 40 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles, new avionics and on-board communications, training simulators, the training of pilots and mechanics and a first batch of spare parts. When deliveries of the new 25 F-16s are completed in a few years, Morocco will have a fleet of 48 fighters fully prepared for future air combat.
The second recent major contract is the acquisition of 24 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, an aircraft that has been extensively tested in the wars of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen and it is considered the best in the world in its class. Configured in version E - the most modern version authorized by the Pentagon for export -, they are fully equipped with radar gunfire control systems, communications, navigation and target control systems, sensors and state-of-the-art night vision equipment.
The transaction was authorized in November 2019 for the acquisition of 36 aircraft - 24 firm and 12 optional - and the contract was signed with the all-powerful Boeing corporation last June for a total value of $4.25 billion, if all 12 options are completed. This amount includes more than 600 AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, more than a hundred Stinger air-to-air missiles, 5,200 rockets and 93,000 rounds of 30-millimeter ammunition for the lethal machine gun each helicopter will carry.
In addition to military missions, Morocco wants to use these helicopters to monitor its borders and prevent illegal migration and drug trafficking. In this way Morocco will be the second African country - together with Egypt - to be armed with the AH-64 Apache from 2024, the year in which Boeing will start deliveries.
But the billionaire contracts with Washington over the last year and a half do not stop there. In June 2019, 250.4 million dollars (222.856 million euros) were agreed to purchase equipment, material and spare parts for the guided bombs and missiles that the F-16 fighters will carry. Three months later, another contract was added for the delivery of 20,000 bombs, guidance systems, fuzes, projection cartridges and flares - also for the F-16s - for a sum of 209 million dollars (186 million euros), which US sources argue will serve to increase Morocco's capacity to undertake "coalition operations".
The latest commitment is that already made officially by the government of Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani to the US Department of Defense. It is a request to acquire a batch of 10 long-range AGM-84L Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles in air-to-ground version to arm, no doubt, the F-16s of the Royal Air Force, which are the backbone of its defence system. The contract costs 62 million dollars (55.18 million euros) and, in addition to the ten missiles, includes the training of logistics personnel, technical assistance and the first spare parts from the manufacturer, the powerful industrial corporation Boeing.
Only one month earlier, Abdeltif Loudyi, whose official position is that of "Minister Delegate to the Head of Government of the Kingdom of Morocco, in charge of National Defence", asked Washington for the purchase of 25 M88A2 "Hercules" heavy recovery vehicles fully equipped with frequency hopping radios, day and night vision equipment, 12.7 millimetre machine guns and smoke throwing equipment.
The M88A2 is a huge tracked vehicle equipped with a crane and shovel capable of moving and towing the powerful M1 Abrams battle tanks of over 60 tons purchased in 2012 from the United States. The beneficiary of the sale, estimated at 239.35 million dollars (213 million euros), is the large industrial complex that the British firm BAE Systems owns in York, Pennsylvania, some 160 kilometres from Philadelphia. At the same time, a contract worth 1.259 billion dollars (1.12 billion euros) covers the modernisation of the 162 Abrams that are in service with the Royal Army's troop battalions.
A third country is becoming increasingly important as an arms supplier to King Mohammed VI, Supreme Commander and Chief of General Staff of the Royal Armed Forces (FAR). This is China, which could have agreed to deliver a batch of 12-tube PHL 03 AR2 rocket launchers with a maximum range of 130 kilometres.
Other sources are inclined to indicate that the pact with Beijing would be related to the purchase of four FD-2000B air defence system batteries, with a range of 200 kilometres and a ceiling of 30 kilometres, an alternative to the Russian S-400 which was not completed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during his visit to Rabat in October 2017. The company MBDA France has also recently reportedly sold low-level VL MICA surface-to-air missiles mounted on all-terrain vehicles at a cost of nearly 200 million euros.
With a privileged geostrategic position, Morocco is the biggest and most faithful military ally of the United States on the African continent. The agency of the American Department of Commerce which gives credit to arms sales to the Alaouite kingdom assures that they "do not alter the basic military balance in the region" and that they provide support to improve the security of "a principal ally outside NATO" which remains "an important factor of stability and economic progress in North Africa".
But the countries bordering Morocco do not see the escalation in the same light as Washington. The perceptions of the governments of Spain, Mauritania and Algeria - their antagonistic neighbour and strategic rival - are very different. The clear incompatibility between the political and economic ambitions of Rabat and Algiers is justified by the danger posed by Islamist terrorist groups operating in the Sahel and North Africa.
While the United States is the main supporter of Morocco, Russia does the same with Algeria and provides it with most of its weaponry. There is no simple answer to the question of what are the real threats to arming yourself to the teeth - or perhaps there is.