The heavy weights of the Maghreb are taking their arms race to the skies with Morocco opting for advanced US jets while Algeria sticks to its Russian supplier amid a lethargy in their bilateral ties on the back of diverging stands on the Sahara issue.
Morocco has on multiple occasions extended an outstretched hands policy towards Algeria met with rejection by a regime facing an implosion as pro-democracy protest continue to push for reforms.
At the heart of the Moroccan-Algerian stand-off is Algiers’ support for the polisario militias.
The two Maghreb countries were ranked by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as Africa’s largest arm buyers taking 26% and 30% respectively of total arms sales on the continent.
Morocco has been cleared recently by the US administration to buy 25 F 16 fighter jets worth 3.8 billion dollars and to upgrade 23 other F16 that the country already operates.
The North African Kingdom, the largest US weapons buyer in Africa, is also set to reinforce its attack capabilities with 24 AH- Apache helicopters for a total cost of 1.6 million dollars.
For its part, Algeria reportedly signed contracts to acquire 14 jets of each of Russian-made Sukhoi Su-34 and Sukhoi Su-57.
But Algeria’s hopes to acquire the Russian fighter jets are shrouded in uncertainty following the death of all-powerful General Gaid Salah.
The recent deal shows that Algeria remains bogged down in a military doctrine typical of a soviet era emphasizing ground troops while Morocco focused more on qualitative air capabilities.
Another point of superiority for Morocco are the two reconnaissance satellites that are used for civilian purposes, but can help militarily if needed.
Besides aircrafts, the recent acquisition by Morocco of Abram tanks, tow missile launchers as well as interest to purchase Patriot Air Defense Systems, show that the Royal Armed Forces remain consistent in their efforts to modernize weaponry.
Morocco’s recent US purchases would significantly tip the balance in the regional arms race with Algeria.
But weapons alone do not make the difference without proper training. Morocco has convened regularly sea, land and air exercises, including Africa’s largest military games held annually together with the US and other armies.
Algeria, on the other hand, has been hostage to a military doctrine that forbids foreign intervention and has refrained from participating in multinational military drills of the scale of the African Lion.
A report issued by the Strategic Defense Intelligence (SDI) said Morocco is poised to become Africa’s leading army in 2022 thanks to its advanced procurements. A prophecy that is set to become true as Morocco is on way to unseat an Algeria plagued by internal strife and dwindling revenues.
Morocco “consistently imports advanced arms and ammunitions such as fighter and training aircraft, ships, missiles, tanks and frigates to strengthen its armed forces; a trend expected to continue over the forecast period,” reads the report dubbed The Future of the Moroccan Defense Industry- Market Attractiveness, Competitive landscape and Forecasts to 2022.