Morocco establishes its first long-range air defence base

The new base will be established in the town of Sidi Yahia El Gharb, some 60 kilometres from Rabat

PHOTO/CHINA DAILY  -   Chinese FD-2000B air defence system

Morocco intends to take a step forward in the arms race that began with the severing of diplomatic relations with Algeria four months ago. This time it is the establishment of the first long-range air defence base the kingdom has ever had. The location chosen to house this new base is Sidi Yahia El Gharb, some 60 kilometres north of the capital, which has already been active throughout the year with the activation of certain defence systems.

The base will presumably cover an area of around 42,000 square metres. The movements that took place in this same location in the middle of the year already gave a glimpse of what was to come. In the summer, four batteries of the Chinese FD-2000B anti-aircraft defence system, ordered by Rabat just over four years ago, were installed. It was only a few weeks ago that these systems, manufactured by CASIC (China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation) Defense Corporation, were activated in Sidi Yahia El Gharb.

The FD-2000B anti-aircraft system is a new version of the Russian S-300 system which, like the S-400, has been surrounded by controversy over the dispute between the US, Turkey and Russia over Moscow's sale of the S-300 to Ankara. The FD-2000B is an export version of the HQ-9B anti-aircraft system, also produced by CASIC Defense Corporation. The range of the device recently activated by Morocco has an interception range of up to 300 kilometres at an altitude of 30 kilometres and a radar capable of locating targets at 280 kilometres.

According to the Spanish media "Defensa", the FD-2000B could be used as part of the network that Aziz Akhanouch's government plans to establish. It would be a layered model that would include other systems such as the short-range TY-90/DY-90 and the medium-range Sky Dragon-50. To these should be added some that the Alawite kingdom is considering acquiring. The US Patriot and Israel's Barak-8 are two systems that Morocco is interested in, and which would be compatible with Chinese systems that might not offer all the services Rabat would like.

The case of the Israeli Barak-8 is not new. "Defensa" claims that this system has been coveted by the Moroccans for some time. However, the absence of diplomatic relations until just a year ago made it impossible to purchase it. Now, with the normalisation of relations and the increasing number of agreements signed between the kingdom and Tel Aviv, the acquisition of the Barak-8 system could become a reality in the near future. This is also spurred by the difficulties the kingdom had in purchasing the US Patriot due to the wide differences in terms of use and price that prevented an agreement with Washington.

The new anti-aircraft base is intended to be one of the country's most important defence projects, which is why new agreements are being sought for the purchase of systems and not just the FD-2008B. The tension with Algeria means that Morocco is focusing its efforts on a field in which it has not historically shown great concern. In fact, Morocco has limited itself to the use of its air force fighters due to the absence of ballistic missiles in its neighbouring countries. However, tension in North Africa has led to increasingly intense rearmament.