Western & Northern Africa Database
Morocco, previously under French and Spanish rule, became independent after severe riots in 1955, during which dozens of Arabs and colons were killed. Ever since the development of the country was time and again slowed down by new armed conflicts, which mirrored in the development of the Moroccan Air Force (Force Aerienne Royale du Moroc = FARM).
The FARM was founded with French support on 2 March 1956, and initially consisted of transport aircraft and helicopters of US and French origin, stationed at airfields like Rabat/Salé and Meknes: in the 1950s, the USAF and the SAC used large airfields at Nouasseur, Sidi Slimane, Boulhaut, and Ben Guerir while the USN – together with the French – used the Port Lyautey (Kenitra). Between 1959 and 1963, however, a wave of pan-Arabic nationalism made these bases unsecure, and the Americans moved most of their assets to Libya, thus making place for the Soviets. Already in February 1961 the first team of 100 Soviet instructors arrived in Morocco, followed by the first of 12 MiG-17F and two MiG-15UTIs.
Nevertheless, the relationship with France remained good as well, and some aircraft – including eight Fouga CM. Magister and three Broussard light transports – were purchased there.
|The first fighter jets of the Moroccan Air Force were a dozen of MiG-17Fs, supplied from the USSR in 1961. (Tom Cooper collection)|
In 1963 a short war between Morocco and Algeria broke out because of disputes over some areas rich on natural resources. When it became clear that the Soviets were supporting the Algerians, the Rabat broke all the relations to the USSR and turned to the West for weapons. This trend was confirmed especially after the coup that brought the King Hassan II in power, in 1965. The USA immediately offered help in reorganizing and re-equipping the Moroccan armed forces, and soon enough delivered the first Fairchild C-119G and four Douglas C-47 transports. One year later, also a Foreign Military Support contract was granted, enabling delivery of 18 F-5A, two RF-5A, and four F-5Bs, which replaced the MiG-17s (it is highly likely that at this occasion several Moroccan MiGs were purchased by the USA in exchange). Support personnel and pilots for F-5s were trained in the USA and with the time the FARM became the favorite military service of the King Hassan - in a manner similar to that of the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF), which was a favorite of the Shah of Iran. This went so far that good cooperation between the FARM and IIAF was established in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A number of Moroccan F-5-pilots were trained in Iran, and also three IIAF F-5As were later donated to the FARM.
After the F-5s, no less but 17 additional C-119F/Gs and seven HH-43B helicopters were delivered by the USA, while France added 28 T-28A Fennec and 24 CM-170 Magisters for training.
|A total of 25 Fouga CM-170 Magisters were delivered to Morocco between 1956 and 1970. Approximately a dozen of them remained operational into the 1980s, mainly used for training, but sometimes also for combat sorties in Western Sahara. (Tom Cooper collection)|
|Photographs of Moroccan F-5A seems to be very rare; this is a reconstruction of how the FARM "Freedom Fighters" looked like immediately after delivery. Later, all have got a similar camouflage pattern like the F-5E/Fs. This example, (6)69120, surived the coup in 1972 but was shot down by Sahrouis over West Sahara in 1979. (Tom Cooper)|
Regardless of being favorized by the King, some officers of the FARM obviously disagreed with his politics, and prepared a coup. On 16 August 1972, three F-5As – flown by Lt. Col. Amakrane (ex CO of the Kenitra AB), Maj. Kouera E. Ouael (Amakrane’s successor as CO of the Kenitra AB), and a third pilot – intercepted the Boeing 727 carrying the King from a visit in France. The fighters opened fire from cannons scoring several hits in the tail area. The crew of the Boeing, however, was swift in “informing” them that the King was mortally wounded, and Amakrane and his followers broke off their attack, so the 727 was able to make a safe emergency landing on one engine on the military side of the Rabat-Salé airfield. Realizing that the King was still alive, one F-5A then straffed the buildings at the airfield, while four others then attacked the King’s palace, damaging it considerably. By then it became clear that the coup failed and subsequently the dissidents then tried to escape the best they could.
Major Ouael run out of fuel and ammunition and had to eject from his F-5A, and was captured immediately afterwards. Lt. Col. Amakrane landed in order to comandeer a helicopter, which he used to flee to Gibraltar where he ask for political asylum. His request was turned down, however, and he arrested – together with all the other FARM dissidents, imprisoned after loyal forces have taken Kenitra AB under control.
In the days after the failed coup attempt, the King purged the Air Force and severely punished all the involved officers. Even the commander of the FARM, Col. Lyussi, was reliieved of his command, and replaced by Cdr. Kabbaj, the pilot of the royal Boeing 727.
The coup attempt of 1972 and the following purge weakened the FARM considerably and the Moroccan Air Force was therefore unable to send two squadrons of F-5As to Egypt for fighting the next war with Israel, as originally promised by the King to the Egyptian Army Commander-in-Chief, Lt.Gen. Saad el-Shazly. Instead, only a detachment of one squadron was deployed, in mid-October 1973, and this spend most of the war flying combat air patrols deep inside Egypt.
The FARM F-5As only once came near to engage Israelis: this occurred in late 1973, when two F-5As - armed with AIM-9B Sidewinders - were vectored to intercept an IDF/AF RF-4E underway in the Canal Zone. Before the F-5As could approach sufficiently to engage, however, they were turned away and two Egyptian MiG-21s intercepted the Israeli Phantom instead.
|The badly damaged tail of the royal Boeing 727 showing several hits caliber 20mm fired from the F-5As flown by dissident pilots of the FARM, on 16 August 1972. Capt. Lyussi, the pilot of the 727, saved his king not only by a fake radio message that the King is dead, which caused the three F-5s to stop attacking the aircraft, but then also by landing the badly damaged aircraft on only one engine. (US DoD)|
The War in West Sahara
The rift between the King Hassan II and the FARM lasted not too long, however. Already one year later, the King took care the air force to be modernized and enlargened by more modern aircraft. As first no less but 19 Lockheed C-130H Hercules were acquired, needed in order to standardize the Moroccan transport fleet of miscelaneous aircraft. Two years later, no less but 40 Aérospatiale SA.330 Pumas, 12 AB.205Bs, eight AB.206As, and five AB.212s were bought, followed by seven additional F-5As from Iran. The most serious order of the time was issued in 1975 to Dassault for 25 Mirage F.1CH interceptors (this order included an option for 50 examples more), which started arriving from 1978. This order was foremost influenced by continuous confrontations with Algeria, but also because in 1974 the war in West Sahara broke out.
Namely, in that year Spain declared ready to pull-out of its overseas Province of Spanish-Sahara, and it was planned that a referendum under the control of the UN would then decide about the future of the country, which was to be controlled by Morocco and Mauretania in the meantime. The developments took another course, however, as there were considerable foreign interests in Spanish-Sahara, known to be rich in phosphates and both – Moroccan and Mauretanian governments – decided not to wait for any referendums of the local population. By November 1975 negotiations between Madrid and Rabat resulted with the Spaniards – completely ignoring the representants of the locals, especially the People’s Front for Liberation of Saguiá el Hamra and Rio de Oroa (FPOLISARIO) – placing the country under Moroccan control.
The Algeria-based FPOLISARIO – usually simplified to “POLISARIO” – had already an armed wing, the Armeé de Liberation Populare Sahraoui (ALPS), which was well armed with weapons of Soviet origin and numerous vechiles, and this was swift to start an insurgency against the Moroccans and Mauretanians. As neither country’s armed forces were trained in any kind of counter-insurgency warfare in the following months both were to suffer several blows in clashes with excellently-trained and highly mobile guerilla, which operated over hundreds of kilometers of empty desert.
Even before the Spanish completed their pull-out, on 27 January 1976, also Moroccan and Algerian troops clashed near the Ambala Oasis and then problems rose in Mauretania. The Mauretanian Air Force had only six Briten-Norman BN-2A-21 Defenders, two of which were shot down early during the fighting against the Sahrouis. By 1976, the FARM was left with 15 F-5As, three F-5Bs, and two RF-5As, all of which were stationed in Kenitra, as well as the Fouga CM.170 Magisters and an increasing number of helicopters. Many of these were forward deployed to El Aouin airfield in West Sahara, so to shorten the ranges over which they need to operate.
Meanwhile, by June 1976 the Mauritanian Army units in West Sahara suffered several defeats on the hand of the ALPS, which finally ended with the Sahrouis marching towards Nouakchott, Mauritanian capital. The French were supportive for Mauritanians and Moroccans and only waited the moment they could deploy their forces in the area as well. In May 1977 the ALPS attacked the City of Zouerate, and later in the same year also captured eight French citizens. Already in summer of the same year, Paris started deploying troops and few Jaguar As of the EC.3/11 to Dakar, in neighbouring Senegal and these were later reinforced by two C.160 Transalls of the ET.61, as well as a single Atlantique of the 24F. Mirage IVR of the French Air Force also started flying reconnaissance sorties over Western Sahara and Mauritanian, helping the French troops to consolidate the defenses of the country.
On 15 December 1977 a column of ALPS attacked the train between Zouerate and Nouadhibou, and elsewhere also eight French citizens were captured, and Paris now found the reason for reaction: the Jaguars of the EC. 3/11 attacked an ALPS column with napalm- and phosphor-bombs, and destroyed 25 vehicles. In early January 1978 more Jaguar As of the EC.1/11 arrived in Dakkar, and the attacks against the guerilla were reinforced. The FARM also flew some strikes at the time, but on 18 February lost an F-5A, shot down over Aguerguer. The French aerial operations were not followed by corresponding operations of the Mauretanian army, and most of the rebels managed to get away. On the contrary: after another series of French air strikes, on 3 May 1978 a Jaguar A of the EC.3/11 was shot down by a SA-7 fired by the Sahrouis. Meanwhile, the Mauretanian losses in men and material were so severe, that unrests spread within the country, which lead to the ousting of Presiden Ould Daddah, in July 1978. Subsequently the Mauretanians pulled out of West Sahara, and the POLISARIO was swift to take over all their bases in the south of the country.
The situation now became so serious for the Moroccans, that they requested an immediate delivery of their Mirages ordered from France. The Dassault could not follow any such request, so instead it was agreed the French to supply some of their own Mirage F.1Cs to FARM if this would be needed, while a group of Moroccan pilots was sent to Orange AB, in France, where they were re-trained on Mirages, so the F.1CHs built for Morocco to become operational immediately after their delivery, in February 1978. In addition, 14 more Mirages – all belonging to the doppler- and in-flight-refueling probe equipped F.1EH version – were ordered, to be delivered between December 1979 and June 1982.
|Between late 1979 and October 1981 FARM received a total of 24 Alpha Jets. They were serialed 225 thru 249, and operated by two units stationed at Meknes, one of which had a training- and the other COIN-role. (Dassault, via Tom Cooper)|
Modernization of the FARM
By the end of 1978 the Moroccan units started feeling the increased activity of the ALPS, which was now able to concentrate on fighting the last remaining opponent. Initially, the FARM was not very active in the fighting, as its F-5As were not considered as effective against highly-mobile guerilla even in the open desert. On the other side, when the Moroccans tried to use their Freedom Fighters they lost several of them to Sahroui SA-7s within only few weeks. The Moroccans finally realized that the war against the POLISARIO will neither be an easy, nor a swift one, and that the use of their full military potential will be needed in order to become successful. While the French started the delivery of 30 Mirage F.1CHs, and the deliveries of the helicopters ordered three years before were almost completed, the Moroccans ordered 24 Alpha Jets, which could be used as training and attack aircraft, and then requested also six specialized COIN-aircraft OV-10A Bronco in the USA.
|The FARM purchased only six out of 24 originally ordered exUSMC OV-10As. The FARM examples carried BuAerNos: 55397, 55404, 55425, 55433, 55462, and 55491, were delivered in 1981 and stationed at Marrakesh-Menara AB. This is the 55404 seen armed with a gun-pod and lauchers for unguided rockets. Note also the strike camera fastened on the right engine nacelle. At least one Moroccan OV-10A was shot down during the fighting with the ALPS. (via Tom Cooper) |
The POLISARIO was not sleeping either. Reinforced with additional weapons and material supplied from the USSR via Libya and Algeria, and boasting at least 15.000 fighters, in 1979 the APLS started a series of surprise attacks against several Moroccan garrisons in West Sahara, but also inside Morocco. During a strike against one of the ALPS columns that attacked the forward Moroccan base at Enegir, on 2 August 1979 the FARM lost its first Mirage F.1CH, which was shot down by ZPU-23 anti-aircraft guns.
In the subsequent operations against the garrisons of Lebouirate and Smara the Sahrouis deployed also rocket-launchers caliber 128mm, causing severe losses to the Moroccans. In response, in October 1979, the Moroccans started the Operation “Uhud” along the Algerian and Mauretanian borders, but this ended without any serious success, and the FARM lost another F-5A, followed by a Mirage, shot down in November of the same year. The Moroccans had now to realize that they cold not defeat the POLISARIO as this was operating also from safe bases within Algeria; attacking the APLS there would mean provoking a much wider war, which the Morocco could not win. Therefore, the only way out was a war of attrition, with the Moroccan armed forces increasing their capability of early warning and detection against Sahroui attacks, and the capability to hit back. With financial help from Saudi Arabia, in 1980 a deal worth $245 million for 16 new F-5Es and four F-5Fs was agreed with the USA, which included the delivery of also 381 AGM-68B Maverick air-to-ground missiles as well as a large number of Mk.7 Rockeye CBUs. New orders were also placed in France, for 24 Aérospatiale HOT ATGM-armed SA.342L Gazelle helicopters, and in Italy, for six Meridionali-Boeing CH-47C transport helicopters, needed in order to increase the mobility of the infantry units and the capability of the FARM to support it by fire-action. The Saudis then financed the building of an integrated air control and defense system for Morocco – which included the F-5As, the to-be F-5Es, Mirage F.1CHs, and the Crotale SAMs – and an order for seven additional F-5s, issued in 1981, too.
|The Moroccan armed forces mainfly fought this war statically, contrary to what might be indicated by this picture showing Bell 212 and SA.330 Puma helicopters in close cooperation with a French-supplied VAB APC and M-151 jeep. (US DoD) |
Meanwhile, the Moroccan troops in Western Sahara remained largely on defensive, as at the time they were lacking proper reconnaissance and warning systems needed in order to detect and track smaller ALPS units before these could concentrate and deliver new heavy blows. Namely by 1980 the Sahrouis were already operating a number of BMP-1 APCs, T-55 MBTs, and even two full SA-6 batteries, supplied by Libya, aside from numerous lighter weapons, including AT-3 Saggers, SA-7 MANPADs, and RPG-7s. In fact, while the Moroccans were ordering large number of heavier weapons in the USA and France, in 1980 the APLS manage to increase the pressure on Morrocan units inside West Sahara. Alone in engagements with the FARM the Sahrouis claimed a total of several F-5s, four Mirages, and two helicopters, as well as a single C-130s so far. This forced the Moroccans to create a kind of an anti-guerilla wall, that spread from Jebel Ouarksis in the north, down to Cap Bojador, on the Atlantic Ocean, and consisted of anti-tank ditches, minefields, electronic movement-sensors, as well as a series of fire-bases on which smaller units with artillery, tanks, and helicopters were stationed. In order to offer better air support for the troops the FARM also enlargened the el-Aouin airifield, making it capable of receiving up to a full squadron of F-5s or Mirages and a reinforced unit of helicopters. The number of Moroccan troops in Western Sahara was also increased to 116.000. The situation changed barelly: on the contrary, by 1981 the APLS executed also several attacks against el-Aouin, and the FARM was finally forced to order two Boeing 707s re-built into tankers and equipped with Beech 1800 refuelling-pods (mounted under the wingtips), so to be able to operate its fighter-bombers out of the secure bases at home. The technicians of the Aero Maroc works then equipped all the F-5Es and few F-5As with refueling probes, purchased in the USA.
|Wreckage of a FARM Mirage F.1: during the war against the ALPS the Moroccans lost at least seven Mirage F.1CH and F.1EH, while six others were lost in different mishaps. (via Jesus Perez)|
By mid-1980s, the FARM became reluctant to base its fighters in Western Sahara. The huge “walls” built with such effort between the Algerian border and the Atlantic and successively moved further south, proved not to be able to stop the incursions of the ALPS towards north. Instead, for combat operations, FARM F-5As and F-5Es foremost operated from Meknés/Mézgues AB, while the Mirages were based at Sidi Slimane. Due to huge distances they needed to cover in order to reach the battlefields, both fighters usually carried large drop-tanks. In addition, the F-5s were mainly armed with “iron” bombs and unguided rockets, while the Mirages equipped with ECM-pods and chaff/flare dispensers covered them as escorts: the French-built fighter-bombers were also noticed carrying RP35 drop tanks, which had a Matra rocker-launchers caliber 128 or 68mm mounted in the nose.
The largest problem for the Moroccans at the time remained the reconnaissance: they remained unable to timely detect and properly track the movements of the Sahrouis. For this reason, the Aero Maroc equipped two C-130s with side-borne looking radars (SLARs), which were soon seen in patrol operations along the Algerian border, trying to track the enemy and learn about the patterns of his movement. With French support the Aero Maroc also developed a reconnaissance pod for the FARM Mirage F.1EH-200s, equipped not only with usual cameras, but also by an IR-camera, and a small SLAR. These significant developments were only partially effective: the operations of the FARM reconnaissance aircraft had to be very carefully undertaken, as the ALPS soon started setting ambushes and targeting them with SAMs. Besides, the due to the decrease in size of the FARM C-130-fleet because of the two Hercules now being used for reconnaissance, there appeared some problems with the mobility of the Moroccan ground troops.
On the opposite side, the ALPS was better equipped and more active than ever before. On 12 October 1981 it mounted an attack against the Moroccan base at Guelt Zemmour, deploying at least 60 T-54 and T-55 tanks, covered by a number of SA-7, SA-6, and SA-9 SAMs. The FARM was forced to simultaneously battle the enemy on the ground and take care about supplying the embattlened garrison, which caused considerable problems, as the Sahrouis were only waiting for such an opportunity. Already on the first day of the Battle of Guelt Zemmour, the ALPS shot down the FARM C-130H “CAN-OH/4717”, which wa used as airborne-commanding post. On the next day the situation became even more precarious as the Sahrouis deployed more of their heavy weapons along the front lines: two Mirage F.1Ehs – at least one of which was equipped with a reconnaissance pod produced by the Aero Maroc – were shot down by Sahrouis SA-6s while underway at 9.200m along the Algerian border. This caused an outcry from Rabat as the Moroccans explained the Algerians to have shot the two fighters down: indeed, this loss caused a heavy shock for the FARM, as it became clear that their fighters were not equipped to tackle the new thread. In reaction to this loss, the Mirages were then equipped with chaff/flare dispensers mounted into the basis of the fin instead of breaking parachutes.
Before such improvisations could help ease the situation, the FARM continued suffering losses, and by the end of October also an SA.330 Puma helicopter carrying Moroccan troops was shot down.
|Between June 1981 and January 1983 Morocco received a total of 16 F-5Es and four F-5Fs.The F-5Es were serialled 79-1920 thru 79-1925, and 79-1932 thru 79-1941, and the (7)91291 was the second example delivered to Morocco. It is seen here during transit in France.... (via Tom Cooper)|
In the late 1980s the FARM started feeling increased pressure from an ever larger number of available air-defense weapons in the hands of the ALPS. Actually, the Moroccan losses were low measured on the number of combat sorties flown, but even a single fighter-pilot lost by such a small air force was a painful blow. And the Moroccans were constantly losing aircraft. During one of Moroccan counteroffensives, in January 1985 the FARM again suffered considerable losses. On 12 January 1985 an F-5E was confirmed as shot down by a SAM near the Algerian border, and nine days later also an OV-10 was lost. The first Alpha Jet was lost on 27 December 1985, and another F-5E on 21 August 1987.
|...and here what was left of it after the "91921" was shot down over Western Sahara, in 1985. (via Jesus Perez)|
|The Algerian Air Force deployed the MiG-21s of the 11th Fighter Squadron (and, frequently, also detachments from the 140th Fighter Squadron) to Tindouf in order to be able to counter eventual Moroccan incursions into the Algerian airspace. In the end these never directly confronted the FARM fighters, even if there were several situations when the Algerian and Moroccan aircraft operated only few kilometers away from each other. (Tom Cooper collection)|
Sometimes, the Sahrouis would target anything that flew over them. On 24 February 1984, for example, they also shot down the Do.228 of the German Antarktic-Expedition GANOVEX IV, while the plane was underway between the VOR-point Nouadibou and the reilais ad-Dakha, killing a crew of three. Also, on 8 December 1988, a DC-7 chartered by an US agency for international development was shot down, and another civilian aircraft – used for spraying insecticides – damaged. In total, by 1987, the FARM lost seven Mirages shot down and six others crashed due to different mishaps. Three Mirage-pilots went down with their aircraft, three were captured, one killed by the guerilla after ejecting. Several other aircraft came back to their bases in badly damaged condition: one has got a 12.7mm bullet through the front part of the cockpit and exiting through the ejection seat. Another came back with a part of an SA-7 logged inside the afterburner section of the engine. Several Magisters were also shot down, forcing the FARM to retire them from combat duties. Nevertheless, the Moroccan Air Force never felt a lack of trained personnel: the large number of training aircraft were properly used, and sometimes additional crews were sent for training to France.
The Algerians were monitoring the developments in West Sahara with increasing concerns. Officially, they were not involved in the war. In-officially, they were supporting the POLISARIO with bases, weapons, and equipment to extension. Although the Algerian armed forces were not permitted to actively support the ALPS by any means, the Algerian assistance enabled the Sahrouis to become as successful, as they could always retreat into save bases behind the Algerian border, while the Moroccan bases – even those deeper behind the front - were always under a threat, and the Moroccans were not in a position to attack into Algeria without risking a war they could not win.
Frequent reports about the Algerian Air Force (QJJ) taking part in this war – at least with the help of its air defense units (foremost SAMs) – were therefore not truth, just like rumors that at some time even the Spanish became directly involved in the war – on Moroccan side, and by attacking the Algerians. The Algerians rather equipped and helped train the Sahrouis with different heavy units instead of using these directly against the Moroccans. Simultaneously, it is truth only that during the 1980s and again in the early 1990s the MiG-25RBs of the QJJ operated along the Spanish airspace over the Mediterranean – a move that certainly caused considerable consternation in Spain. The reasons for these flights remain unknown, but ever since the Spanish Air Force (EdA) took steps to improve its capabilities to counter such potential targets like high-flying MiG-25s.
Of course, time and again the QJL also took some steps in order to be better capable of facing the tense situation along its western and southern borders. During the 1970s, it had only a squadron of MiG-17s stationed at Tindouf AB, which is near the West Saharn border. But, when the war intensified also a squadron of MiG-21s was sent to the same air base. This unit held two fighters on permanent alert at an dispersal site near Tindouf. The idea in the case of an eventual penetration of the Algerian airspace by Moroccan aircraft was to scramble two MiG-17s and then use them as baits, which would drag the intruders in front of two MiG-21s. The QJJ pilots never came so far to try this idea out, as – as soon as the Moroccans detected the arrival of MiG-21s in the area – the FARM stopped any flights along the border. An Algerian Air Force officer observed:
- We play some very interesting “mind-games” with Moroccans time and again, and it’s there that we can really appreciate our men and material. On at least two instances our MiG-25s flew even over Morocco. The first time was in 1982 or 1983, I don’t remember the exact date.
There was a large exercise involving the Moroccan and the US Air Force, and at the times the fighters of the Force Aerienne Royale du Moroc (Royal Moroccan Air Force – FARM) flew often very closely to our borders, and in a very offensive manner. They were staging simulated raids over an area that is exceptionally difficult (not to say impossible) to defend for us. They never entered our airspace, but it became very frustrating for us to see them so close to the border. Consequently. We deployed a single MiG-25s from Ain Oussera AB to Tindouf – at low level and by night, and then decided to make a small show on the following day. We were monitoring Moroccan and USAF operations for days, and knew when these would end. So, when their fighters finally landed, we scrambled our MiG.
Now, the runway at Tindouf is pointing directly in the direction of the border. Because of this all of our fighters – except MiG-21s – must turn sharply after the take-off, so not to violate the Moroccan airspace. In turn, however, it became common for the Moroccans to see our fighters taking off towards their border. Of course, we always turn away, but on this day the MiG accelerated straight ahead, increasing the altitude and speed as it flew out - over Morocco and the Atlantic Ocean, then turned around and came back.
There was no reaction: they did not scramble even a single fighter of their own. Not even their air defense sites were activated. But, subsequently, their flying along our borders became much more “diplomatic”.
Sometimes the Moroccan aircraft were forced to operate near the Algerian border and there were few instances in which the Moroccans and Algerians were directly facing each other. In 1986, for example, during another battle around one of the forward Moroccan bases, two FARM Mirages tried to attack one of the ALPS columns, which was retreating back into Algeria. One of the Mirages penetrated into the Algerian airspace and two QJA MiG-21bis were scrambled to intercept. As the Moroccan came into the range of the nearby QJA SAM-site, the ground command ordered the two MiGs to stay out of the fight, so to avoid a possible fratricide engagement. The SAM-site acquired the Mirage, but did not fire. Nevertheless, it forced the pilot to start a series of hard maneuvers: for almost a minute, the crew of the Algerian SAM-site watched the “air-show” put up by the evading Moroccan on the monitors of their TV-system. The Mirage-pilot did not activate his ECM-systems, and - after obviously getting tired of evasive maneuvers - simply distanced to the West. After this incident, the Algerians took some diplomatic steps towards Morocco, but nothing special came of these, as neither side was interested in risking a war.
End of the War, but not of Fighting
The war continued to rage back and forward until August 1988, when Morocco – due to improved relationship with Algeria and exorbitant costs of the war – quietened down its demands for the control of West Sahara. Although a cease-fire was agreed, however, until today the situation of the Sahrouis was not solved: time and again the Moroccans managed to spoil all the plans for a referendum and denied the Western Sahra a possibility to gain independence and become an internationally recognized country.
Since the official end of the war, the Moroccans try to reinforce their air force. Already in 1985 there were talks with the USA for F-20 Tigersharks, and with France, for Mirage 2000s. However, even with the financial help from the Saudis there was no possibility to purchase either. Therefore, in 1989, 12 F-5Es – all former “Aggressor” aircraft – were acquired from the US Mavy.
By 1991 Morocco was in such a bad situation, that it had to turn down even a highly interesting offer from the USA for some 20 second-hand F-16A/Bs. All that could be done for all the 1990s was to send the surviving 25 Mirage F.1CH/EH to France for refurbishment. How badly was this needed by the time showed also the frequent crashes of FARM fighters, like the one of an Mirage, on 12 April, and an F-5E, on 13 June 1995, both of which were lost due to engine defects.
If the – meanwhile pretty popular - thesis that conventional forces are losing an anti-guerilla war as long as they are not decisively winning is considered, the meanwhile 25 years lasting war in Western Sahara is a brilliant illustration how a well-equipped guerilla can defeat even a heavily armed conventional force regardless of lacking better cover in the desert, and without own air-support.
Indeed, due to being equipped with a wide array of modern air-defense systems, and properly trained to use them, and also facing an enemy which initially failed to properly equip its aircraft with needed countermeasures, the ALPS managed to deny the airspace over its units - that operated in the open desert – to enemy airpower. In this way, and because the FARM was obviously never left to develop in the way it should have – foremost to purchase more capable systems and develop proper countermeasures and tactical doctrines - the airpower could not play a role decisive enough for Morocco to win the war.
Sources and Bibliography
Except for own research, additional details were supplied by Tom N., "Mirage", Jesus Peres, and other members of ACIG.org forum.
Following sources of general reference were used as well:
- "AIR WARS AND AIRCRAFT; A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present", by Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989, UK (ISBN: 0-85368-779-X)
- "Der Spiegel", German weekly, different volumes between 1983 and 1989.
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