Morocco eyes F-35 stealth fighters amidst rising regional tensions

Morocco, seeking to enhance its air capabilities in response to its neighbor Algeria, is exploring the possibility of acquiring fifth-generation American F-35 stealth fighters. This decision comes amid ongoing tensions between Rabat and Algiers, particularly over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which Morocco claims as part of its sovereign territory.

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Morocco Eyes F 35 Stealth Fighters Amidst Rising Regional Tensions.jpg 925  The F-35 fighter is considered among the world's most advanced combat aircraft (Picture source: DVIDS)

While Algeria has modernized its air fleet with fourth-generation "4+" fighters such as the Su-30MKA and MiG-29M/M2, Morocco's air force is left with largely outdated third-generation aircraft, including F-16C/D, F-5E/F, and Mirage F1. This disparity raises concerns about Morocco's aerial defense capabilities compared to its Algerian counterpart.

In this context, Morocco is considering leveraging its close ties with Israel to gain access to the highly advanced F-35 fighters, considered among the world's most advanced combat aircraft. Sources indicate that Moroccan King Mohammed VI has expressed interest in acquiring these aircraft, and a meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Benny Ganz and Moroccan Defense Minister Abdellatif Loudiyi in November 2021 strengthened defense agreements between the two nations.

Israel's recent recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara, announced on July 17, further solidified the ties between the two countries. Israel has a long history of strategic cooperation with Morocco and provided sensitive intelligence before the Six-Day War, which played a crucial role in defeating Egypt and Syria, aligned with the Soviet Union.

As a close ally of NATO, Morocco has provided military support to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, further strengthening its ties with the United States. However, due to complex geostrategic considerations and international relations, Morocco faces challenges in acquiring F-35 stealth fighters. Spain, for example, is wary of the supply of F-35 to Morocco due to Morocco's claims on the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

While the move aims to enhance Morocco's aerial defense capabilities, Algeria is not idle. Emerging signs suggest that Algeria may acquire fifth-generation Su-57 stealth fighters from Russia, potentially furthering its military advantage in the region.

Experts predict that the first contract for a fifth-generation fighter in Africa could be concluded between 2027 and 2030. However, given the high cost, the acquisitions are likely to remain limited and should not significantly disrupt the military balance in northwest Africa.