The government of Morocco signed a strategic contract with the Belgian companies Sabca and Sabena Aerospace, together with Lockheed Martin of the USA, aiming to become a maintenance center for F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters and C-130 Hercules freighters.
According to Sabca, the contract signed on 04/14 will lead to the creation of Maintenance Aero Maroc (MAM), a military aircraft maintenance facility. The new MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) will be based at Ben Slimane Air Base.
MAM will meet “the support requirements of the Royal Moroccan Air Force and bring high-tech jobs and technical skills within the country” , says Sabca. The statement notes that “first maintenance activities” on the C-130s could begin at the approximately 15,000 square foot facility before the end of the year.
The partnership “will ensure that the Kingdom of Morocco receives the best possible industrial facilities, equipment, training and certification to support the sustaining requirements of the Royal Moroccan Air Force and other international customers” , said Danya Trent, Vice President of the F-16 Program. from Lockheed.
The biggest reason for installing the MRO in Morocco is its fleet of F-16C/D Block 52 fighter jets, which is expected to increase with the arrival of another 25 F-16 Block 72s from 2025.
Abdel Hamid Harfi, a Moroccan military expert, told Breaking Defense that the Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF) has 23 F-16 fighter jets and these are expected to be upgraded to Block 72 standard at MAM’s new facilities. The F-16s operate alongside the locally modernized F-5E/F Tiger II fighters, as well as the modernized Mirage F1 MF2000s and the Alpha Jets based at Meknes air base.
The RMAF also operates a fleet of 17 C-130Hs and has sought to grow that fleet through the Excess Defense Articles program, where the US donates aircraft that will no longer be used.
Harfi says the RMAF “expects to keep the F-16 and C-130 Hercules not only for its air force, but also for neighboring African countries that operate these aircraft.”
Tunisia operates a fleet of six C-130B/H Hercules and two C-130J-30 Super Hercules. In addition, it is expected to receive two additional C-130H aircraft from the United States following a 2019 order.
Other regional C-130H operators include Libya, Niger, Chad and Egypt, the latter of which was approved by the Biden government to purchase twelve C-130J Super Hercules aircraft in January this year. Egypt also has 220 F-16s in its air force, which represents the fourth largest fleet of the model in the world (behind the US, Turkey and Israel), an obvious potential business target for the new aeronautical maintenance company.
In 2020, Morocco issued law 10.20, which sets the framework for the production of local military systems.
According to the law, three categories of military production are permitted in the Kingdom: defense weapons and ammunition (including related information system and communication and surveillance equipment); military security equipment; and hunting and sniper systems.
“In line with this law, Morocco is increasing its local military production and the new installation is one of those steps. The Kingdom aspires to achieve self-sufficiency in the field of military industrialization and to be a regional platform of the military industry for the local market as well as for export to neighboring African countries,” said Harfi.
In parallel, the country is also working on a broader modernization program, which includes 36 AH-64E Apache helicopters, due to be received by 2025, and 22 Turkish-made T-129 ATAK helicopters with an arrival date still uncertain.
Harfi notes that MAM’s maintenance operations will not be the first MRO activities to take place in the country. “The French Mirage F1 interceptor fighters were maintained locally within the framework of a previous partnership between the RMAF and Sabena Aerospace.” He points out that the modernization of the F-5 was developed locally in the early 2000s in partnership with Israel (similar to what happened with Brazilian aircraft).
Morocco has numerous security concerns, including neighboring Algeria with an advanced air fleet, which the Kingdom accuses of arming the Polisario Front rebel group in Western Sahara. In addition, tensions remain with Spain over Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves that Morocco considers occupied cities.
The specialist reinforces that the Moroccan search for technology transfer is important for the RMAF to be independent and able to maintain its fleets in critical situations.