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Africa and South America , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

Why Morocco Needs the Russian Made S-400 Air Defense System?

An Asymmetric Measure Against Algeria's Air Force

November 18th - 2017

From early November 2017 reports began to emerge that Morocco's military was set to acquire Russia's S-400 long range air defense missile system - the most advanced of its kind in the world. This came in the wake of Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev's visit to the country when the contract was negotiated. The purchase appears an unusual and unexpected choice for Rabat, not only because of its relatively small military budget of just $3.5 billion, but also because of its longstanding relationship with the United States as a loyal military client. Morocco's purchase of the S-400 comes amid widespread purchases of Russian made air defenses across the Arab world, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Algeria and Bahrain all either purchasing or negotiating for the S-400. Widespread orders for the S-400 came in the wake of Russia's deployment of the system in Syria, which were key to effectively deterring Western air forces from engaging Russian forces there since late 2015.

Morocco currently finds itself at a significant strategic disadvantage with its neighbor and primary rival Algeria. Algeria's defense spending is almost triple that of Moroccos, while it maintains the most modern and arguably the most powerful military in Africa - not to mention the largest. Algeria is in a position to quickly claim absolute air superiority over Morocco should the two engage in a war. The country fields advanced S-400 and S-300 systems compared to Morocco's currently negligible air defense capabilities. In their air forces the discrepancy between their capabilities is even greater, with Algeria's forces not only outnumbering Morocco's several times over, but also fielding far superior platforms. The bulk of Morocco's Air Force is comprised of F-5 second generation fighters, while it also fields nine third generation Mirage F1 and fifteen fourth generation F-16 fighters. All these are dated and unspecialised light multirole platforms, with no outstanding capabilities. Algeria by contrast has one of the most capable air forces in the world, with the backbone of which is made up of heavy 58 Su-30MKA advanced air superiority fighters - a further 10 Su-35 fighters on order. The Su-35 fighters alone would be well within their limits to engage and neutralize the entire Moroccan Air Force. Algeria also fields numerous other advanced platforms such as Su-34 strike fighters and MiG-29 lighter multirole platforms - the least capable plafrom of the Algerian Air Force which is nevertheless equivalent to and capable of matching Morocco's most advanced fighter - the F-16C.

With Morocco overwhelmingly outmatched in the air, the country's investment the advanced anti aircraft systems such as the S-400 to deny Algeria the ability to operate over its airspace is essential. While it would take decades and investment well beyond its defense budget for Morocco to acquire a modern air force capable of challenging Algeria, investment in modern air defense systems are a fast and cost effective way for Morocco to compensate for the weakness of its air force and provide at least some form of defense against Algerian fighters. With Algeria continuing to invest in its Air Force to become a world leading aerial power, the discrepancy between the capabilities of the two countries is set only to grow. While Morocco will remain at a disadvantage against the Algerian military, Algerian fighters will no longer be able to fly almost completely unchallenged over Rabat within hours of any conflict breaking out as they would have been able to before. With the S-400 capable of engaging up to 80 targets at once, tackling the system from the air will be a significant challenge even for Algeria's Air Force. The weapons system will upon its deliver effectively be all that stands between Algeria and the ability to gain total air superiority over Morocco. Moscow may well hope to see Algiers make further weapons purchases, possibly advanced cruise missiles similar to the Brahmos developed for the Indian Miltiary or possibly Su-57 fifth generation stealth fighters, to restore its former overwhelming advantage against the Moroccan military.

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