Moroccan Air Force’s New Enhanced F-16s Will Be Among Africa’s Top Fighters – But Fleet Still Badly Outmatched
The Moroccan Air Force is set to receive 25 F-16 Block 72 fighter aircraft from 2025-2027, making it one of the few countries to have purchased the costly iteration of the fourth generation fighter class which has been in production for close to half a century since 1973. Although the F-16 has increasingly been criticised as obsolete by many of its operators from Singapore to the United States, with the U.S. Air Force having itself ceased acquisitions in 2005, the fighter represents a low cost option for clients with lower defence budgets unable to acquire its successor the F-35 or higher end F-18E/F or F-15EX twin engine platforms. Among economically developed clients the only one to have purchased the new F-16 variant is Taiwan, largely due to political restrictions on its acquisitions of F-35s due to its status in both the UN and Washington as a non state actor. The F-16 Block 72 is nevertheless going to revolutionise Moroccan aerial warfare capabilities due to its fifth generation level avionics and armaments, particularly as the country’s air force relies overwhelmingly on obsolete third generation fighter classes.
The F-16 Bock 72 is prized for its network centric warfare capabilities, the high situational awareness and advanced electronic attack capabilities provided by its AN/APG-83 AESA radar, and its access to new generations of munitions such as the AIM-120D and AIM-260 air to air missiles. The obsolescence of the mechanically scanned array radars of Morocco’s current F-16s means the country’s first fighter unit with electronically scanned array radars will be very valuable. Although the aircraft will likely represent one of the most capable on the African continent, and almost certainly the most formidable Western-built fighter, its ability to influence the balance of power with neighbouring Algeria will be limited. Algeria already fields a very large fleet of ‘4+ generation’ fighters, namely Su-30MKA heavyweights which are almost twice the size and carry radars close to twice as large as those of the F-16 while have tremendous advantages in nearly all performance parameters. These are expected to upgraded with new avionics and weapons, and supplemented by the first Su-57 fifth generation fighters which will leave the F-16 Block 72 more obsolete than anything in the Moroccan fleet is against the Su-30 today. The very small size of the Moroccan fighter fleet, its exclusive reliance on lightweight fighters, and its inability for political reasons to look to non-Western suppliers able to provide fighters at a fraction of the cost, are expected to remain major factors ensuring the balance of power in the air remans far from favourable.