Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II in Service with Morocco

Last revised September 29, 2015

The Al Quwwat al Jawwiya al Malakiya (Royal Air Force of Morocco) has been one of the most active users of the F-5.

The kingdom of Morocco became independent from France in 1956. Support from the US and France was withdrawn in 1961 when the Moroccan government exhibited a definite pro-Soviet tilt, and the USSR supplied a squadron of MiG-17 fighters and MiG-15UTI trainers. However, in 1966, Morocco turned back toward the West again and the USA supplied 18 F-5As to replace Morocco's MiGs, and these aircraft were the air force's primary combat aircraft until the arrival of Mirage M1C/Es in the late 1970s.

The F-5As were soon to become embroiled in a particularly ugly confrontation with guerillas in neighboring Spanish Sahara. In 1974, Spain began to withdraw from its colony in the Spanish Sahara. Morocco and Mauretania agreed to partition the territory, but the Algerian and Libyan-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguiet el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (known as Polisario) opposed this and fighting broke out in 1976. At that time, Morocco operated a fleet of F-5A/B aircraft, but was also given substantial French assistance. The F-5 force was based at Kenitra and bore the brunt of air operations. Several F-5A/Bs were lost to ground-fired SA-7s.

To make good these losses, sixteen F-5Es and four F-5Fs were delivered to Morocco in 1981. Substantial numbers of AGM-65B Mavericks and numerous Rockeye cluster bomb units were delivered as well. The F-5Es were later fitted with refuelling probes, and were operated in conjunction with a modified Boeing 707 acting as a tanker. A few have been lost in action against Polisario tanks defended by mobile SA-6s. Beginning in October 1989, 12 ex-Alconbury-based USAF aggressor F-5Es were delivered to Moroccco.

In 1991, Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to a UN-backed cease fire. There was to be a referendum by the Sahrawi population on whether they would unify with Morocco or attain independence. The referendum was to have taken place in 1992, but has not yet taken place, due to a conflict over who has the right to vote. However, the prolonged cease-fire had held, but not without tensions remaining high. There have been repeated threats by both sides that the war might resume.


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  2. F-5: Warplane for the World, Robbie Shaw, Motorbooks, 1990

  3. Northrop F-5, Jon Lake and Robert Hewson, World Airpower Journal, Vol 25, 1996.

  4. History of Western Sahara, Wikipedia,