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Royal Moroccan Air Force

When Morocco attained independence from France in 1956, a small air arm was one of the early requirements of the armed forces. However, the Royal Moroccan Air Force was not created as a separate service until 1964. Since that time it had gradually grown in size and capability with help primarily from France and the United States. Although Morocco obtained some Soviet aircraft during the 1960s (for example, MiG-17s, MiG-15s, MiG-21s, and AN-12s), none of those aircraft were operational by the end of the Cold War. Moreover, that Soviet assistance did not extend to organizational and tactical experiences of a lasting nature.

The key event affecting the growth of the Moroccan air force occurred on 16 August 1972 when six pilots from the F-5 squadron intercept the King's Boeing 727 and try to shoot it down. Following the 1972 coup attempt, Mohammed Kabbej, the King's pilot, became inspector of the air force, equivalent to the chief of staff of the US Air Force. The appointment of Kabbej as its commander had a positive impact, and the RMAF was really reborn in 1972 under Kabbej's dynamic leadership.

The United States had been a player in the Morocco-Polisario war as the source of much of Morocco's war material, especially the weapons used by the Royal Moroccan Air Force. Help from the United States was especially important when the Polisario deployed Soviet-built SA-6 surface-to-air missiles to counter the growing effectiveness of the Royal Moroccan Air Force.

Most of the purchases made during the 1970s were designed to modernize the Moroccan military and were not related to the Saharan conflict. In 1977, however, Rabat asked Washington for OV-10 and F-5E fixed-wing aircraft and Cobra attack helicopters for use in Western Sahara. Previous US- Moroccan agreements stipulated that US-supplied weapons could be used only for internal security and self-defense. Morocco had been using previously obtained F-5A and B aircraft in the Sahara since 1976, a fact used by the Carter administration to justify its rejection of the Hassan regime's request for additional arms.

The Reagan administration dropped any conditions in supporting the Moroccans, as the need for staging bases in North Africa for the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force made access to Morocco's airfields important. The U.S. Government provided an extensive quantity of military equipment and services to Morocco through FMS credit purchases and the Military Assistance Program (MAP). The major end items were F-5 fighters and C-130 transport aircraft. The majority of these end items were financed by FMS credit and third country funds, and were delivered in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With the exception of the delivery of 10 F-5 fighters in 1989, the focus of the U.S. security assistance effort in Morocco shifted from procurement and was directed at sustaining and maintaining U.S.-origin equipment in the Moroccan Armed Forces.

The Royal Moroccan Air Force had 95 combat aircraft and 24 armed helicopters in 2006. On October 13, 2009 Hawker Beechcraft sold 24 Beechcraft T-6C trainers to the Royal Moroccan Air Force. The $185.3 million contract includes the aircraft, technical and logistics support and other services. The Royal Moroccan Air Force was the launch customer for the T-6C aircraft, an improved version of the T-6A Texan II. The T-6C would replace Morocco's T-34 basic trainers and Cessna T-37 jet trainers.

The Royal Moroccan Air Force had operational bases in Rabat-Salé, Meknès, Kenitra, and Sidi Slimane and a training base in Marrakech. In the 1980s the main operating bases for fighters were at Meknes (F-5 unit) and Sidi Slimane (Mirage F-1 unit). Both bases were well maintained ; both had unused flightline and maintenance capacities. And Sidi Slimane had 24 hardened aircraft shelters that rival those of any air force in the world.

The RMAF's command center at Sald, built by Westinghouse Corporation at a cost of about $240 million, was the hub of a very modern air defense system that blankets all of Morocco. Radar stations throughout the country feed into the Sal6 center where operators track air movements throughout the nation. All the equipment at the center was operated by Moroccans (but some Westinghouse technicians remain as advisors and troubleshooters).

Although Presidents Truman and Eisenhower supported the concept of Moroccan independence, they were both much more concerned with the emergence of the Cold War and the necessity for maintaining a good relationship with France which had reasserted its political control in the region. In 1951, the U.S. signed an agreement with the French to establish four U.S. Strategic Air Command bases in Morocco. The U.S. strongly supported Morocco's independence which came in 1956, but the bases agreement between the U.S. and France remained a sore point between the U.S. and Morocco until a 1959 agreement between the two countries led to the evacuation of the four bases in the early sixties and several smaller communications sites in the late seventies.

The Reagan administration, in need of secure air base facilities to support possible Mideast operations, courted King Hassan and sent an ambassador to Rabat to assure the monarch that "he can count on us." In 1987 the Moroccan government agreed to the use of an old abandoned U.S. Strategic Air Command Base at Ben Guérir as a transoceanic abort landing (TAL) site for NASA's space shuttle during emergencies. On the military side, Morocco signed agreements with the U.S. government allowing U.S. forces access and transit rights at several Moroccan Air Force bases. This agreement included various military construction projects toupgrade and develop facilities for possible contingencies.

Morocco was in the process of upgrading its armed forces and was 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 was moving ahead with an upgrade program for its Mirage F1s and was also engaged in the acquisition of new equipment that would ensure the air arm remains credible and effective.

In 2007 Morocco was studying various options, which included the F-16, the French Rafale, and the British Eurofighter. The Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF) express Moroccan interest in purchasing the F-16 fighter jet, and that the RMAF did not fully support "a political decision" to purchase the French Rafale. The RMAF submitted 14 March 2007 a formal Letter of Request for Price and Availability; however, the the F-16 inquiry had to be put on hold because there was a resurgence of political pressure from the highest levels to buy the French Rafale. Morocco selected the F-16 in 2007, picking the U.S. aircraft over the Rafale. Morocco is the 25th nation to buy the F-16, the world's most widely flown jet fighter.

French President Sarkozy's 22-24 October 2007 visit to Morocco was viewed as a success by both sides. Sarkozy essentially conceded the loss of the sale of French Rafale fighters to a "better offer" to Morocco for US F-16s. The proposal, which has been under study since 2004, was apparently seized on as a centerpiece for the visit once it became apparent that Rabat was determined to proceed with purchase of American F-16 fighters rather than the French Rafale, though the project is not expected to be commissioned until 2013. Perhaps chastened by the Rafale experience, the French president told French attendees at a Moroccan-French economic forum in Marrakech on the last day of his visit that they cannot rest on their laurels. Instead they must aggressively outbid and outhustle the competition, conceding (according to the Moroccan press) that if the French lost the Rafale aircraft deal, "it is because the Americans made a better offer." Responding to a press question Sarkozy proudly defended his good relations with the US. Other military contracts concluded during the visit included the sale of a French frigate and the upgrade of 25 Puma helicopters and 140 armored vehicles.

The Rafale debacle had been a shock but not the first or necessarily the last. France had long ago learned that it needed to work more effectively in the face of American competition and had set up an interagency "rapid reaction cell" to coordinate France,s response to similar competition in the future some time earlier. The feverish manner in which the French press reported the Moroccan decision not to buy the Rafale made it appear that it had caused the government to set up this working group.

The RMAF had around 60 warplanes as of 2012, 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 was being upgraded and swelled by new purchases, such as four Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan transport aircraft. The Moroccan Air Force was also upgrading 27 of its Dassault Mirage F1s under the MF2000 project, which was giving them a capability similar to that of the Mirage 2000-5. The first upgraded aircraft flew in 2009.

HM King Mohammed VI held, on 27 March 2015, phone talks with his brother the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, the Royal Household said in a statement. During the talks, the two Monarchs discussed the situation in the Yemeni republic in light of the latest developments in the region. On this occasion, HM the King reiterated to the Saudi Monarch Morocco’s decision to provide all forms of support to the coalition as a contribution to settling the crisis in Yemen and restoring legitimacy in this brotherly country. This support includes the Royal Air Force stationed in the United Arab Emirates. The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques thanked HM the King for his solidarity and support for Saudi Arabia and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Yemen's Houthi rebels said 11 May 2015 they had shot down a Moroccan F-16 warplane taking part in the Saudi-led air campaign targeting them, ahead of a humanitarian cease-fire due to go into effect the next day. Morocco's military said the jet was last seen the evening of 10 May and that a pilot from another jet in the same squadron did not see the pilot eject. The Houthi-run news channel said the plane was shot down by anti-aircraft guns in Saada province, near the Saudi border. Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition continued to bomb targets in Saada, as well as Taiz in southwestern Yemen and the oil-producing Marib province in the east.

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