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Last update 15-11-2020
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 Meknčs-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 Meknčs.
was originally planned to be completed in 1966, but by 1967
only the first three (four according some sources) single-seaters, followed in 1968 by
another five had been received. One double-seater was received in 1968. Different is the USAF Historical Office: four Northrop F-5A/B were operational in
September 1966, a fifth in June 1967.
According to an official US list funded from the Security Assistance Program were FY 1976 (and previously) for 1 Northrop RF-5A, 2 F-5A, 7 F-5B.
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 Northrop F-5A, authorisation
given by the US in April 1976, upon its own re-equipped with Northrop F-5E. Some single-seaters were received, according to one other source 5 Northrop F-5A and 2 reconnaissance Northrop RF-5A, were received
Initial aircrafts were in natural metal colours kept till ca 1973, followed by late deliveries in camouflaged colours. Conversion traininig of F-5A pilots took during mid-70s also place in Iran.
Northrop F-5A-35 21243 stored at McClellan AFB on 28-10-87 before handing over. Northrop F-5A-45 97109 seen in USA on 10-06-70, before delivery Photo: Frank MacSorley
On 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.
Freedom Fighters participated to the
six day war between Egypt and Israel in October 1973;
only a reduced number of pilots/aircrafts were available following the
recent coup against the King. On 19-10-73 twelve
Northrop F-5A and 14 pilots was transferred to the Egyptian base of el-Tanta via Ageria, Tunisia and Libya. Two Lockheed C-130 delivered spare parts, armament and technical personnell. They participated only to air
patrols behind the war lines. Two AIM-9B Sidewinder armed Northrop F-5A had the only opportunity to engage the Israelis in January 1974 when they were ordered to intercept 2 Mirage IIIRJ over the Suez Canal area
but had to return to base when 4 Israeli McDonnel F-4 protecting the reconnaissance aircrafts were discovered by the radars.
First 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.
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;
ocal 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 phosphate rich field of Bu Craa.
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 the same year. Morocco requested at this point the supply of Tigers under the US Military Assistance Plan, which was denied by the USA.
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.
A possible swap of Jordanian Northrop F-5As against Moroccan bought Northrop F-5E considered in 1976 took not place.
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.
Use of Freedom Fighters in the Sahara region posed a problem as early
USA armament use was limited by the US Arms Control Act; this
authorsed the use of the weapons only for internal security and
During a US congressional hearing in March 1978. the State Department stated that their use was not a "substantial violation" of US law.
Battle area size increased considerably in July
1978, when Mauretania arranged a ceasefire and Morocco occupied its former Western Sahara area; in Mauritania
stationed Moroccan troops were withdrawn when a peace
agreement was signed in August 1979, when (most probably all) Northrop F-5s were also withdrawn.
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.
after approval in October 1979 by 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-seaters ordered by Morocco were not taken-up 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
1981. The remaining 6 Northrop F-5E, the first built aircrafts
and in-flight refuelling probe equipped, followed in January 1983. The local aviation industry installed the probe on the remaining aircrafts in Morocco.
Awaiting delivery in USA 91936, of note missing ECM antenna/air refuelling probe. Northrop F-5F 91942 in USA before delivery May 1980, no ECM atenna/air refuelling probe.
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.
Maroc Industrie was established 10-81 at Casablanca to support,
overhaul, modify and repair Moroccan military aircrafts,
including FreedomFighters and Tigers.
To help alleviate the F-5 short range problem of the aircraft, insufficent to operate deep iinto the desert,Aero Maroc Industrie
fitted a Northrop F-5B ca 1982 with an in-flight refuelling probe as a prototype 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. Photo: unknown
The Hares photo reconnaissance pod for Northrop F-5E and GAMD Mirage F.1s was also produced by Aero Maroc Industrie.
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
led to the loss on 13-11-81 of one F-5A,
October 1986 (but probably prepared around 1983) USA published in-depth
study of the Moroccan AF stated that there were 8 Northrop F-5A/F-5B serviceable and 12 qualified pilots, but were rarely flown.
Thirteen Northrop F-5E/F-5F were also available, only 6 pilots were qualified to fly this model. All aircrafts were minimally used in the war zone due to the lack of Radar Warning Receiver (RWR); six additional
RWR equipped were on order.
needed around three years to achieve initial operational capability on
the Northrop F-5s, too long for western standards and the main air war limiting factor was the shortage of pilots, those
not trained to fly in an SA-6 missiles environement. The best F-5 pilots were transferred to the Mirage F.1 units used in the fighter-bomber role, aircrafts having some counter-electronic measures equipment.
Two Dassault Falcon 20 and 1 Falcon 50 were modified with Electronic Counter Measures (jamming) equipment to partially make good lack of equipment on thr fighters.
USA assistance to solve the SA-6 problem was requested and granted in 1987. A three-men USAF team went for 60 days
to Meknčs to teach to the pilots on low-level, high-speed flying skills. Unfortunately the
team's results were not very effective for several reasons.
In addtion, the USA offered 10 ALQ-119 ECM pod and 10 ALE-38 chaff and flare dispensers 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 costs and the short time pods' availability
Sexteen serials of new built Northrop F-5Es and of four F-5F are known.
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
period, but dragged on till now.
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 and tail of Northrop F-5E white RWR, all at Polisario museum Tindouf (Algeria) 1996. Photos: G. Gaiani
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.
Eleven 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 initially their original colours. Seven are known to be equipped with tail Rawar Warning Receiver
Northrop F-5E 01543 at Meknes in July 1990 in USAF camouflage, in the background a Northrop F-5E 01553 in aggressor camouflage in 1991.
Freedom Fighter in silver colours! Photos: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
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
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
Next step to keep the fleet up-to-date concerned the Northrop F-5E/Fs; details are sketchy due to political sensibility. It seems that negotiations were already held with IAIof Israel around 1996 without follow up.
The year 2000 saw the start of actual planning and IAI was selected to do the work, though there is no official information;upgrade consisted in an EL/2032 multi-role radar, navigation, heads-up display and several
deal with IAI failed and Sogerma took-over the uprading , done between
2001 and 2004. Prototype conversion was possily carried out by SOGERMA
followed by 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, RWR, HOTAS system were installed, together with an HUD;
additionally Northrop Grumman Litenining laser designator pods have been purchased. All this gave an enormous improvement over the original Northrop F-5E/F-5Fs; new local designation is Northrop F-5E III.
Northrop F-5E 91940 equipped with Elettronica ELT/555(V)3 ECM pod photographed in flight.
There were 32 aircrafts in service in 2004 according to an US source. Another source mentioned that as few as 10 Northrop F-5 remained in service; 3 should be lost in combat (1985, 1987, 1991), up to 7
cannibalized at Laayounne or Guelmin.
It is reported that some (7) Tigers have been cannibalised by the beginning of 2014 for spare parts and 24 have been updated to the new configuration.
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 Meknčs AB during 1984.
took place mainly in the area of the Straight of Gibraltar on the 2nd
and 3rd 1988 with the particioation of Moroccan Northrop F-5.
GAMD Mirage F.1, Alpha Jet and French GAMD Mirage III, McDonnell
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.
2002 edition took place from the 7th till the 12th of April; three
Spanish CASA/Northrop SF-5 came to Meknes AB to mix with four local
four local Northrop F-5E, while four Spanish GAMD Mirage F.1 met with
GAMD Mirage F.1.
French Base Nancy-Ochey was used for ECM training in May 2003: This base is particularly known housing radars hunting aircraft.
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 eighth, 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 between the 4th and 8th
June 2012 to Talavera AB.
The 2012 edition took place again at Talavera la Real AB with X
Northrop F-5E (and Mirage F.1s) while the 2014 took place from Meknes
between June 9th and 13th. Moroccan Northrop F-5s and Mirage F.1
Spanish McDonnell F-18 normally based at las Palmas AB.
Three Northrop F-5E and 1 Northrop F-5F deployed to Talavera AB in order to exercise with the Spanish Ala 23 CASA/Northrop F-5B+s for exercise "Navimaes 15" between thr 8th and the 12th June 2015.
"Atlas 2016", 30th edition, started with 5 Northrop F-5E and 1
F-5F on 20-05-16 and ended at Salamanca, where the Ejercito del Aire
utilized 3 Northrop F-5B+ as well as CASA 101 and McDonnell-
Douglas A/F-18s of Ala 12.
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.
Deployments to France could not miss:
Two 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 underwing ECM pods and no air-refuelling probe.
Photo: E Bannwarth
Line-up of Northrop F-5E, first serial 91937
Modifications / Replacement
Upgraded Northrop F-5 remain in use with the Escadre de Chasse 2 "Tiger" at Meknes/Bassatine AB, mainly as fighter-bomber with AGM-65B missiles (from 1981) and possIbly AGM-65D/H.
Modifications to the Northrop F-5 hardware include a new Elta EL-2032M radar, this and modified software allow now the use of AIM-120C, AIM-9X y AGM-65D missiles.
choice of a first-line 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 16 single- and
8 double-seater aircrafts. The first 4 aircrafts were received in August 2011 and the last 3 on 22-08-12. Experienced Tiger pilots were trained at Tucson International Airport with the US National Guard. The F-16s have
now equipped newly formed Escadrons.