The final three of 24 F-16s for the Royal Moroccan Air Force have departed Lockheed Martin’s facility in Texas on their way to their new home in Morocco. 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 final F-16 destined for Morocco performed its first flight on March 15 from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base and the final the three Block 52 single-seat aircraft left the base on August 22.
The Royal Moroccan Air Force on August 4, 2011, took delivery of the first four F-16s at a ceremony at Ben Guerir Air Base north of Marrakech.
Major General Margaret Woodward of the US Air Force at the time told reporters in Marrakech that another seven aircraft would be delivered at the beginning of this 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.
Morocco is the 25th nation to order the F-16 – more than 4 500 have been built to date - in fact, the 4 500th F-16 was a Block 52 destined for Morocco. In December 2009 Morocco placed an US$841.9 million contract with Lockheed Martin for 18 single-seat F-16Cs and six two-seat F-16Ds.
"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.
Moroccan F-16s are based at Ben Guerir Air Base, which 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.