Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Battle Of Stealth Aircraft: Morocco Wants F-35 Fighters To ‘Ward Off’ Algeria That Plans To Acquire Russian Su-57 Jets

Morocco is said to have requested Israel to persuade the United States to allow the sale of its cutting-edge multirole fighter F-35, potentially in response to Algeria’s planned procurement of Su-57 stealth fighters. 

Tensions between Morocco and Algeria have increased since the latter unilaterally snapped diplomatic ties, sparking a regional arms race.

In addition, Algeria revived its relations with Russia, leveraging Moscow’s intention to re-establish itself in Africa. Morocco, on the other hand, is banking on its deeper ties with Israel and the US to procure weapons as a deterrent against any Algerian maneuvers. 

Lockheed Martin F-35 (via Twitter)

Algeria is believed to have ordered or in process of ordering 14 Russian Su-57 fighter jets, which is a big source of concern for Morocco, posing a danger to regional military balance. The Russian made Su-57 could be able to gain an advantage against Morocco’s existing fleet of F-16s. 

According to Israeli intelligence firm Jafaj, Morocco is making extensive attempts to purchase the US’ top military weapon, the F-35 multirole stealth fighter jet. The firm claims Morocco is attempting to persuade the US through Israel to sell its most-advanced jet. 

Sukhoi Su-57 - Wikipedia
Sukhoi Su-57 – Wikipedia

During the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s recent trip to Morocco, King Mohammed VI reportedly met him in private and discussed the ongoing tensions with Algeria. The firm further claimed that the Moroccan intelligence “confirms” that Algeria is “planning hostilities on Moroccan borders”, which has had diplomatic ties with Rabat since August.  

Jafaj quotes an anonymous European source as saying, “the Moroccans want the Israelis to spy on the deployment of militiamen or Algerian troops across the border with Morocco as they are very concerned about Algeria-backed Islamists who may target Morocco”. Morocco is also trying to purchase “Israeli drones with very high surveillance and combat powers”.  

F-35 To Face-Off Against Su-57?

Morocco’s Defense Minister Abdellatif Loudiyi discussed possible upgrades to the Moroccan air force with Gantz, claimed Jafaz. “Morocco needs more planes with a serious potential for war with its neighbor,” it said, adding that Morocco’s preferred choice is the US’ stealthy F-35 multirole fighter. 

Loudiyi pledged Ganz that his country would appreciate Israel’s assistance in lobbying US President Joe Biden’s administration to accept the sale of F-35 fighter jets and more sophisticated armaments in general.

Additionally, the UAE has offered to “cover the cost” of the sophisticated jets if Morocco can get US clearance for a future sale of the fifth-generation fighters. 

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II - Wikipedia
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II – Wikipedia

The F-35 is a costly aircraft, however, it would be a game-changer in the already expensive arms race between Algeria and Morocco. On the other hand, Algeria previously announced to procure Russia’s fifth-generation aircraft, which is designed to compete with the best military hardware coming out of the US and China. 

The SU-57 is a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, competing with the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II from the United States. The Chengdu J-20, a Chinese jet, is the only other fifth-generation jet. Even though the Su-57 and F-35 aircraft were created for distinct objectives, the Russian military claims that the Su-57 outperforms many of the capabilities of NATO’s F-35.

The F-35 is a multi-role fighter with a specialization in air-to-ground missions that are being integrated into NATO member air forces. The Russian Su-57 is less concerned with bombing missions and more concerned with achieving aerial superiority.

If Morocco becomes successful in acquiring the F-35s (which looks very unlikely), the geopolitical dynamics of the region would be altered, and the region might become a battleground for US-Russia rivalry.

Existing Air Power Of Two Countries

Algeria could be the first country outside Russia to buy the Su-57 jets, giving it substantial aerial superiority over its neighbors. The existing fleet of Algerian Air Force comprises MiG-25, Mig-29, and Su-30 fighter jets, which will take some time to replace and are already expensive to maintain.

Russia is expected to begin the delivery of advanced jets in 2025, providing Morocco with a little window of opportunity to weigh its alternatives. 

File:Algerian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MK.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Algerian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MK – Wikimedia Commons

Algeria could spend $2 billion on 14 new SU-57s, while Morocco will spend $4.8 billion upgrading its F-16s. Once Algeria acquired the Su-57, it could outperform the aging F-16s.

This decision poses a challenge for Morocco’s military authorities. Rabat may be able to acquire the F-35, which competes with Russia’s Su-57, as a result of improved ties with the US.

However, Adapting to Algeria’s new military weaponry could be difficult for Morocco in its current airpower. Algeria may not limit its procurement to the SU-57 due to its close military connections with Russia. It might potentially explore purchasing other world-class weapon systems from Russia.

File:Moroccan F-16.JPG - Wikimedia Commons
Moroccan F-16 – Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, Morocco is on a list of 26 countries that have sought the purchase of the “Skylock” anti-drone technology, according to Israeli sources. SAM-6 and SAM-7 missiles can also be thwarted by the “Skylock Dome.”

Algeria, according to experts, has been compelled to return to its old relationship with  Russia as a result of the diplomatic crisis with France. The former is also reportedly attempting to secure a deal to buy the latest Russian S-500 missile system, according to a report in Arab Weekly. 

As per available data, Algeria is the world’s third-largest importer of Russian military equipment, obtaining more than 60% of its armaments from Moscow.

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