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Last update 22-11-2012
Morocco received shortly after its independence 12
Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-17 and 2 MiG-15UTI from the
Soviet Union to equip its only fighter Squadron; these
were grounded in 1963 following a border conflict with
Algeria and Soviet Union's preferencefor Algeria as an
allied, supplying MiG-17, MiG-21 fighters and Il-28
The USA were contacted in order to obtain new fighters;
on 26-01-66 an arrangement was approved for 8 MAP
supplied F-5A (USD 5m) and 2 F-5A, 2 F-5B and support
equipment supplied under credit (USD 6m) to equip one
Squadron based at Meknès-Kénitra AB.
First 6 of 15 pilots completed their conversion at Williams
AFB in in May 1966; handover in USA of the first 2 single-
and 2 double-seaters took place on 27-10-66; AIM-9B
Sidewinders were also supplied. A USAF Military Assistance and Advisory Group was also stationed at Meknès.
Delivery was originally planned to be completed in 1966, but by mid 1967 only the first four aircrafts had been received. Additional to the first lot of 12 aircrafts, 6 new Northrop F-5A, 1 former USAF F-5A, 2 RF-5A reconnaissance aircrafts and 2 additional Northrop F-5B followed till 1971. Iran supplied six of Northrop F-5A, authorisation given by the US in April 1976, upon its re-equipped with Northrop F-5E.
Photo:Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
Northrop F-5A-35 21243 stored at McClellan AFB on 28-10-87 before handing over to Morocco.
Initial aircrafts were in natural metal colours kept till ca 1973, followed by late deliveries in camouflaged colours.
Northrop F-5A-45 97109 seen in USA on 10-06-70, before delivery Photo: Frank MacSorley
16-08-72 an event took place that was to influence the development
of F-5 operations for a long time: three armed, of the five
Northrop F-5As and 1 Northrop F-5B escorting King Hassan II on its return
from a visit to France, attacked
the royal Boeing 727. The
King was not hit and the damaged Boeing landed at Rabat where the
airport was strafed by the same aircrafts; one was lost, due to fuel shortage, when the pilot tried to escape. Later that day, 4 F-5As strafed the Royal Palace, again without results. Hussan II was not hurt and a massive purge of Air Force personnel/pilots followed.
is not clear if the Squadron of Freedom Fighters participated to the
six day war in October 1973 bewteen Egypt and Israel; some sorces state that there were
not enough crew available due to the recent coup against the King,
other that a flight was transferred to Egypt but participated only
to air patrols behind the war lines.
Conversion traininig of F-5A pilots took during mid-70s also place in Iran.
loss of Freedom Fighters occurred on 17-11-76 during the Indipendence
Day parade at Marrakech, when one F-5A and one F-5B collided in flight
killing three pilots.
War in former Spanish Sahara broke in 1974 out, when Spain was ready to leave its colony. Morocco occupied two thirds (Northernregion) and Mauritania one third (Southern region, around Dakhla) of the country; local Polisario Liberation Front, with the help of Algeria, continued its fight for independence after having started fighting against Spain since May 1973.
Fouga Magisters (based at Laayoune) and North American T-6
(based at Ad Dhakla) were initially used for ground forces support,
but these were insufficent to combat the heavily armed Front
and Northrop F-5A were used from 1976; several aircrafts
(probably most of the Squadron) were deployed to Laayoune
(formerly El Aiun) to shorten the enormous distance to the
operation field; initial Moroccan main objective was to create
a controlled/safe area around Laayoune, Smara and the phos-
phate field of Bu Craa.
Freedom Fighter bore the brunt of the aerial combat, flying
numerous strikes against Polisario targets.
The Mauritanian Army, relatively poorly equipped, needed help;
three F-5As were also based at Nouadhibou (Mauritania) to
support it. Other airfields, Nouakchott and Atar, were expanded
to accomodate Moroccan F-5s and Mirage F.1 beginning 1978.
Battle area size increased considerably in July 1978, when
Mauritania arranged a ceasefire and Morocco occupied its former
Western Sahara area; Mauritania stationed Moroccan troops were
withdrawn when a peace agreement was signed in August 1979,
when (most probably) F-5s were also withdrawn.
An offer for 20 Northrop F-5E and 4
F-5F Tiger was requested in August 1975 by the
Moroccan government to strengthen the ground-attack/air defence
capability and a Letter of Offer and Acceptance for the value of USD 120m was submitted by the
USA in March 1976; this included training, support equipment and
spares, all to be paid by Foreign Military Sales credits.
Deliveries could have started in 1977. The offer was not taken-up, as
was a second Letter of Offer in 1976. Morocco requested at this point
the supply of Tigers under the US Military Assistance Plan, which was
A possible swap of Jordanian Northrop F-5As against Moroccan bought Northrop F-5E considered in 1976 took not place.
An order was instead placed in 1975 for 30 Dassault Mirage F1.CH (interceptors with ground attack capability), followed by additional 14 Mirrage F.1EH and 6 Mirage F.1EH-2000 (fighter-bombers). Deliveries started in February 1978, ending in 1980; these aircrafts became the main ground attack aircrafts.
introduced in its arsenal the SA-7 Strela short-range, shoulder mounted, surface-to-air missile in
1976 to contrast Moroccan fighter-bombers, succeeding in shooting down one F-5 already on 21-01-76. During
1977 and 1978 Freedom Fighters were used in a limited extent; they
flew only an average of 100 hours a month.
On 12-12-78 Moroccan AF F-5As and North American T-6s attacked an Polisario column heading to attack the Mauritanian railway line.
parts were procured from the USA in 1979, USD 2.4m for the
Northrop F-5 and Lockheed C-130 fleet and ammunition for USD 3.0m,
including bombs and rockets. The
war became very intensive during the July 1979 to December 1981 period
with increased intervention of the fighter-bombers, even with 500
lbs bombs, while Polisario anti-aircraft artillery was strengthened with ZPU-23-4 self propelled cannons and SA-9 short-range missiles.
after approval in October 1979 of the US government and with the finacial help of Saudi Arabia, 16 Northop F-5E an 4
Northrop F-5F were
ordered late 1979 at a cost of ca USD 170m; this was part of a USD 253m package which included 6
North American OV-10A and 24 Hughes 500MD. Another 6 single-seater were not taken-up by Morocco and transferred to Singapore.
In flight delivery via Canada, Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom of the first 10 F-5E and 4 F-5F started in January and was completed by August 1981. The remaining 6 Northrop F-5E, the first built aircrafts and in-flight refuelling probe equipped, followed in January 1983.
Northrop F-5F 91944 in USA before delivery, May 1980
Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
Acquisition of 381 AGM-65B Maverick ground-attack missiles, for use by both the F-5
and Mirage F.1, was decided
in order to avoid to be exposed to anti-aircrafts guns and missiles; a
contract was signed in April 1982. For air-to-air combat AIM-9B
Sidewinders had been originally purchased, followed later by more
advanced AIM-9D and AIM-9J versions.
Aero Maroc Industrie was esta-
blished 10-81 at Casablanca to
support, overhaul, modify and
repair Moroccan military aircrafts,
including FreedomFighters and
To help alleviate the F-5 short range
problem, insufficent to operate deep
into the desert,Aero Maroc Industrie
fitted a Northrop F-5B ca 1982 with
an in-flight refuelling probe as a pro-
totype installation for operational
trials with a newly bought Boeing
B.707-138B fitted with Beech hose
units at the wingtips for refuelling of
Northrop F-5E; 2 Lockheed KC-130H
were also delivered beginning 1982.
The Hares photo reconnaissance pod for Mirage F.1s and F-5Es was also produced by Aero Maroc Industrie.
The unnoticed introduction in 1981 by Polisario of the SA-6 Gainful medium range, high altitude anti-aircrafts missiles was an enormous shock to the Moroccan AF. It led to the loss on 13-11-81 of one F-5A, 2 Mirage F.1 and 1 C-130 near Guelta Zemmour and to the reduction of operation for these fighters, leaving the Army for with little air support and reconnaissance a short period.
An US study (published in October 1986) states that Moroccan pilots were not trained to fly in an SA-6 environment; their F-5s had neither Radar Warning Receivers nor chaff and flare dispensers
to protect against the missiles. A three-men USAF team went for 60 days
to Meknès to train pilots on low-level, high-speed flying; 10
ALQ-119 ECM pod and 10 ALE-38 chaff and flare dispensers were
offered at a cost of between USD 20m and USD 40m on
a cash, non-renewable lease basis, which was not accepted due to
the high cost and the limited time availability of the pods.
Two Dassault Falcon 20 and 1 Falcon 50 were modified with Electronic Counter Measures (jamming) equipment to partially make good lack of ECM equipment on Moroccan fighters.
According to the study, Morocco had only 8 F-5A and B Freedom Fighters and 13 F-5E and F-5F Tiger available, with 6 additional Tigers (Radar Warning Receiver equipped) to be delivered; these aircrafts were rarely used in the war area (the Freedom Fighters even rarely flown) as they lacked essential RWR equipment. There were 12 F-5A/B and only 6 F-5E/F qualified pilots as the best ones had been transferred to the Mirage F.1 units.
Finally, on 11-08-88 Morocco and Polisario agreed upon a UN cease fire plan but it went in effect only in 1991, though war actions slowed down during this period.
War Losses: Dates written in blue are claimed by Polisario
18-02-78 over Aguerguer, 08-06-78 (two), 10-09-78 North of Smara by SA-7 missile, 10-02-79 serial 669120, 27-12-80, 13-11-81 during the battle for Guelta Zemmour.
12-01-85 by SA-6 near Algerian border, 21-08-87, -09-91 near Tifariti serial 91921.
Just visible behing the wreck of a Mirage F.1
is the tail of F-5A-30 serial 669120.
Polisario museum - Tindouf (Algeria) 1996.
Photo: G. Gaiani
Tail of F-5E 91921 with white coloured RWR -
Polisario museum Tindouf (Algeria) 1996.
Photo: G. Gaiani
AFTER THE WAR
Overhauls, modifications, upgrades
The 1990's were used to overhaul, modify, upgrade and to top-up the remaining fighters . Unfortunately no detailed official information is available.
Ten Northrop F-5Es, formerly operated by USAF's disbanded 527th Squadron for dissimilar training in Europe, were bought to make good losses. Deliveries from Kemble AB (UK) started on 19-10-89, being completed on 08-04-92. These aircrafts had been heavily used and had limited avionics equipment; they maintained their original colours initially.
Northrop F-5E 01543 at Meknes in July 1990 in USAF camouflage, in the background a Freedom
Fighter in silver colours! Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
Northrop F-5E 01553 in aggressor camouflage in 1991.
Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
Planned partial replacement of the Tigers in 1991 with 12 former US Air National Guard General Dynamics F-16A and F-16B, again financed by Saudi Arabia, was not realised due to Saudi funds shortage after the first Gulf War.
Improvements to Freedom Fighters were realised with the installation of Northrop F-5E avionics on the remaining aircrafts (probably 8 F-5A 2 RF-5A, 2 F-5B); a contract was stipulated with the French company Sogerma at Bordeaux (France) and protoype installations were carried out on an Northrop F-5B, re-delivered in October 1997, and one Northrop F-5A, re-delivered in February 1998. Five Northrop F-5A had been modified in Morocco by April 1998.
Upgrade prototype Northrop F-5A-45 97093 at Bordeaux in February 1998,
Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
Modification of the remaining Northrop F-5E/F was also foreseen; negotiations were held with IAI of Israel around 1996 without follow up. Ugrading with RWR, improved radar (probably an FIAR Grifo F/X Plus), navigation, heads-up display and several other equipment was anyhow carried out, though there is no official information, possibly prototype conversion by SOGERMA and other conversions at Casablanca; both original Moroccan and some former USAF obtained these modifications. Elettronica ELT/555 active Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) pods were purchased in Italy; additionally Northrop Grumman Litenining designator pods have been purchased. All this gave an enormous improvement over the original Northrop F-5E/F-5Fs; new local designation seems to be F-5E III.
Northrop F-5E 91940 equipped with Elettronica ELT/555 ECM pod photographed in flight.
Training / Exercises
The Air Force command was well aware or the importance of dissimilar training, with other Air Forces, for Moroccan Northrop F-5 and Mirage F.1 pilots; this particularly in view of the re-equipment of the Algerian AF with high performance fighters/bombers (MiG-23, MiG-29, MiG-25). An important number of execises/exchanges was organised, both in Morocco and abroad, even while the war was going on.
Regular yearly Moroccan/Spanish exercises, alternatively held in Morocco and Spain, were established under the names "Atlas" and "Navimaes", starting from 1984.
Two Northrop F-5B of the Spanish Escuela de Reactores deployed to Meknès AB during 1984
"Atlas-88" took place mainly in the area of the Strait of Gibraltar on the 2nd and 3rd November 1988 with the participation of Moroccan Northrop F-5, GAMD Mirage F.1, Alpha Jet and Spanish GAMD Mirage III, McDonnell F-4C, GAMD Mirage F.1.
Four Northrop F-5E/F were deployed for "Atlas 1993" to Talavera la Real AB.
"Atlas-00" was the deployment in March 2000 to Talavera la Real (Spain) of 3 Northrop F-5E and 1 F-5F.
The 2002 edition took place from the 7th till the 12th of April; three Spanish CASA/NORTHROP F-5 came to Meknes AB to mix with four local Northrop F-5E, while four Spanish GAMD Mirage F.1 met with five local GAMD Mirage F.1.
Five Northrop F-5E/F were deployed for "Atlas 2004" to Talavera la Real AB (in addition to Mirage F.1CH/EH and 5 Alpha Jets to Albacete AB. The Spanish AF participated to this years' exercise with F-5BM of Ala 23, McDonnel F-18 of Ala 12, Mirage F.1 of Ala 14.
Two Northrop F-5E and 2 Northrop F-5F deployed to Talavera AB in order to exercise with the Spanish Ala 23 CASA/Northrop F-5B+s for exercise "Navimaes 06" between July 24th and 28th, 2006.
The 2008 edition of "Atlas" exercise started on May 26th; two
Northrop F-5E III and one F-5F III went to Talavera la Real,
their pilots coming from both Squadrons Chahine and Borak. These aircrafts operated with and
against CASA/Northrop F-5M, Dassault Mirage F.1 and McDonnell EF-18.
Talavera la Real AB was visited again for another edition when 4 Tigers took part to the exercise from November 21st till 25th 2011, while 4 Northrop F-5E (together with Mirage F.1s) went in June 2012 to Talavera AB.
African Eagle" and "Ardent Eagle" exercises are held with USAF and US Marines units.
with the USAF started in 1986, when the 525th Fighter Squadron, USAF,
with its McDonnel F-15C was based at Sidi Slimane AB for one month in,
followed with a similar exercise in 1987.
A visit to Beja AB (Portugal) of 1 Northrop F-5E and 1 F-5F during March 1997 to exercise with local Alpha Jets marked the first known Norhtop F-5 deployment abroad. This visit was followed in June 2006 by another one by at least two Northrop F-5E.
Deployments to France could not miss:
Northrop F-5E and two F-5F, with their Elettronica ELT/555 pod were
hosted at Colmar AB (France) in June 2002, probably to test their
recent avionics/ECM upgrade.
Northrop F-5E 91936 landing at Colmar AB in June 2002 without ECM pods and air-refuelling probe.
Photo: E Bannwarth
The choice of a successor to the Tiger was announced in June 2008 after a long struggle between the Dassault Rafale and the Lockheed-Martin F-16C/D Block 52; this last won the order for 24 aircrafts, received starting from 2011. Former Tiger pilots started training at Tucson International Airport. The F-16s are going to equip newly created Escadrons.