Procurement: Morocco Buys Israeli

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March 5, 2020: France finally delivered its three Harfang (Eagle) UAVs to Morocco in a $48 million sale that included ground support and maintenance equipment as well as extended tech support. Completing this sale took six years as Moroccan Islamic conservatives condemned the proposed deal because the Harfangs were actually an Israeli design renamed and modified somewhat for French service. The Israeli origins of Harfang were never a secret but few Moslem majority nations purchased Israeli military equipment. As a result of the criticism by Moroccan clerics and politicians, the Harfang deal was delayed but never canceled.

As Israeli-Arab relations improved, especially because of the growing Iranian threat against Gulf Arab states, official criticism of Israel in Arab states diminished. Commercial ties with Israel also increased. The Arab states were also out of patience with the Palestinians they had long supported diplomatically and financially. The Palestinians proved to be incurably corrupt and more dedicated to suicidal, and futile, attacks on Israel, and each other. In 2019 the Israeli prime minister met with Moroccan leaders and discussed several items of mutual interest and out of that came the decision to finally complete the Harfang deal with France.

After 2014 France continued to use the Harfangs alongside its new Reapers. While doing that the Harfangs had their sensors and electronics upgraded and when delivered to Morocco these UAVs to be formidable reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft. They are being used to monitor continued threats in southern Morocco from Polisario separatist groups who survive in refugee camps in neighboring Algeria. The Harfangs are well suited to monitor the southern borders and semi-desert areas of southern Morocco.

In 2014 France received its first two American Reaper UAVs and immediately put them to work. Since then another ten have been ordered and all have been delivered. These not only replaced older Harfang UAVs but were also being used more aggressively because the Reapers are armed while the Harfangs are not. France wasted no time in using the Reapers in place of their three Harfangs, which had been in service since 2008. In 2014 Morocco expressed an interest in buying the Harfangs. France and Morocco have long had good relations, especially in military matters. Morocco needed UAVs to patrol its vast desert borders, which have long been exploited by smugglers and a few Islamic terrorists. These days the threat is Islamic terrorists and drug smugglers, both of which Morocco wants to keep out. Morocco already has four Predator XP (the unarmed civil version) UAVs. The Harfangs can be armed but have never been equipped with weapons. The Reaper was designed with weapons use in mind and that is apparently one reason France switched to Reaper.

The Harfang was based on the Israeli Heron Shoval UAV, which in turn is very similar to the MQ-1 Predator and is selling well to foreign customers who cannot obtain the MQ-1. In addition to being one of the primary UAVs for many armed forces (Israel, India, Turkey, Russia, France, Brazil, El Salvador), the United States, Canada, and Australia have either bought, leased, or licensed manufactured the Heron. France has bought four Harfang ("Eagle") UAVs that were license built based on the Heron. These were used in Afghanistan, Libya, and Mali since 2010 and one was lost in Afghanistan during a landing accident.

The Heron Shoval weighs about the same (1.2 tons) as the Predator and has similar endurance (40 hours). Shoval has a slightly higher ceiling (10 kilometers/30,000 feet, versus 8 kilometers) and software which allows it to automatically take off, carry out a mission, and land automatically. Not all American large UAVs can do this. Both Predator and Shoval cost about the same ($5 million just for the aircraft), although the Israelis are willing to be more flexible on price. Shoval does have a larger wingspan (16.5 meters/51 feet) than the Predator (13.2 meters/41 feet) and a payload of about 137 kg (300 pounds). The French version costs about $25 million each (including sensors and development costs).

The MQ-9 Reaper is a 4.7 ton, 11.6 meter (36 foot) long aircraft, with a 21.3 meter (66 foot) wingspan that looks like the MQ-1 Predator. It has six hard points and can carry 682 kg (1,500 pounds) of weapons. These include Hellfire missiles (up to eight), two Sidewinder or two AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, two Maverick missiles, or two 227 kg (500 pound) smart bombs (laser or GPS guided). Max speed is 400 kilometers an hour and max endurance is 15 hours. The Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, to replace F-16s or A-10s in many situations.

Until 2014 demand for UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan was so great that the U.S. would not provide many Predators or Reapers, with or without weapons to foreign buyers. This forced foreigner to develop their own UAVs or seek them from the other major source of UAVs; Israel. But with the withdrawal of most American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan since 2011, it’s easier to get Predators and Reapers.

 


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