Morocco/Algeria: The armed forces behind the Western Sahara conflict


The Algerian and Moroccan militaries rank second and fifth in Africa, respectively, and shell out dizzying sums to acquire the latest equipment. Rabat turns to US and French suppliers, while Algiers sticks with Russian-made military goods.

This is part three of a five-part series.

At the end of January 2021, the United States’ International Trade Administration announced that Morocco had purchased a US-made Patriot air-defence system. World famous since the Second Gulf War, the product in question is a medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system designed to neutralise enemy aerial threats.

While no details have been released as to the terms of the purchase, Morocco’s latest splurge will put its armed forces in a better position and perhaps even close the only major military gap the country has vis-à-vis Algeria, whose forces are equipped with Russia’s S-300 SAM systems.

Radars from Thales

But this just scratches the surface of the equipment a country needs to ensure its air defences.

Surveillance radars are also key. Accordingly, the Moroccan army ordered two Ground Master 400 radar systems from French manufacturer Thales, making it the owner of a total of five such systems.

In addition, Morocco is slated to acquire seven AN/TPS-77 radars from US company Lockheed Martin. These latest purchases will give the country multi-layered air-defence coverage with radars capable of detecting targets that have a low radar signature – such as stealth jets – and fly at very low altitudes.

Algeria, for its part, has a wide range of high quality radar systems, such as the Russian-made Rezonans-NE and China’s YLC-8B.

When it comes to fighter aircraft, the Algerian military has trusted Russian jets for decades. It particularly likes those manufactured by Sukhoi, known for leaving fighter pilots the world over awestruck, as their manoeuvrability is unmatched, if flight demonstrations are any guide. But are they as effective in real-world situations? It is entirely possible, but no one can say for sure because they simply have not been used much in combat.

In contrast, the US-made F-16 fighter jet, which Morocco opted to buy, has a long history of use around the world. Its latest variant, the Viper (F-16V), features an integrated radar system and an array of weapons, giving it outstanding cost effectiveness.

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