The Moorish Wanderer

Strategic Defence Review: Contributions for Military Reforms

Posted in Flash News, Moroccanology, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on December 11, 2010

Any defence review should be strategic, if it has the ambition of rethinking the existing, or indeed in trying to think outside of the orthodox box in terms of defence policy. And as far as resources are concerned, any rational decision has to be reflected on the choices of doctrines, training requirements and anything that shapes up the broad lines of defence policy. Also, the numbers I will refer to from time to time are public, widely distributed and assumed to be a fair estimation of reality.

Do major military forces still need Main Battle Tanks (MBT) for their asymmetrical wars? How useful is a tank in the mountains of Afghanistan, or the Marshes of Iraq?

Morocco enjoy relatively stable institutions, and keeps at bay from significant exogenous geopolitical threats. The Sahara dispute is monitored by the UN through its MINURSO establishment, and hosts regular peace talks between the Moroccan authorities and the Polisario representatives. Despite the regular clashes and showdowns, both parties have little incentives to go back on the warpath, and in any case these remnant of cold war legacy are likely to be cleaned up over the medium or long term. In addition, the Moroccan army is increasingly integrated to international expeditionary forces commitment, whether in Africa (Cote d’Ivoire and Congo) Europe (Kosovo) and the Middle-East (during operation Desert Shield). NATO nomenclature considers Morocco a “non-strategic partner” which, even though it does not sound exciting, means that Morocco remains involved in joint manoeuvres with NATO armies, including on the national territory, joint intelligence briefings and meetings.

The Cold War ended some two decades ago. Countries all over the world are still struggling to adapt to a major change in strategic thinking and military doctrines; the recent conflicts like in Afghanistan, Iraq or the recurrent special operations around the African horn do provide valuable empirical results for rethinking strategy and tactics, but surprisingly enough -or indeed because of financial restrictions- there are no major innovation as far as conventional weapons are concerned: the US Army and Marine Corps for instance still use M1 Abrahams, M2 Bradley, Apache and M4 rifle, all of which were either produced prior to 1991, or are upgrades of pre-existing weapon systems. Setting aside special forces, the existing weapons are not fitted for optimal asymmetrical combat configuration like their cold war predecessor, though considerable efforts were consented in terms of personnel web gears, camouflage patterns and even new hardware like the extensive use of Piranha vehicles, or new replacement for the M4 carbine. France operates the brand-new AMX Leclerc, a tank that was first designed in the late 1970’s, and by the time it was effectively in service the whole warfare doctrine that laid its requirement was long gone; As a result, this piece of art saw limited service (and is mostly used as a parade-ground toy for July 14th).  If major economic and military powers struggle to find the right arms for constantly changing battle condition, at an affordable price, what sort of hardships the Moroccan forces would be facing? It is even more pressing when one has to take into account how reliable the Moroccan army is on foreign military supplies, thus compelling decision makers to be careful in their choices.

Apart from their institutional weaknesses -and the establishment is not entirely without blame, far from it- there is a great deal to be done about the staggering heterogeneous weapon systems available to the branches of the armed forces. These problems are exacerbated by the unbalanced ratios between different classes of weapons which, in case of high intensity conflict, can lead to sever handicaps on the field, putting soldiers in harm’s way without the adequate level of hardware superiority: there is here a strong assumption that the army has a consistent combat manoeuvre tactics, involving inter-arms operability coordinating mobility, fire-power and reliable intelligence or reconnaissance into a formidable task force. The institutional shortcomings can be dealt with at the political level, with the authorities setting a comprehensive agenda for structural reforms, the only viable solution to transform a wasteful behemoth and opaque institution into an juggernaut machine devoted to efficiency and high standards for defence.

Equipment heterogeneity is mainly due to the fact that right after 1956, Morocco started expanding its army at a high pace, and as such,

Italian-Moroccan Joint Activities, SFOR outfit, Bosnia, February 2001 (Picture: NATO)

tried buying up systems of weapons from many countries east and west, not necessarily to fend off external threats (the 1963 desert war with Algeria was small scale, and against an enemy that lacked the proper structures and resources beyond an organized guerilla movement) and more into asserting a certain political balance. However, things changed resolutely after the Green March and the difficult years of semi-state of war with Algeria -now a fully fledged military power with a ‘massive fire power‘ Soviet doctrine to go-, the armed forces, especially the ground forces, expanded into an aggregate of arms from France, Germany, Italy, USA, Soviet Union and Israel to name but a few, all hurriedly bought and misused against an enemy much less endowed with initial military resources, but highly mobile, experienced and allowed to draw on considerable resources from behind the Iron curtain, Libya, Algeria and Cuba. The trouble with diverse weapon systems is that heterogeneous standards render logistics largely ineffective: the 1976-1991 is littered with unfortunate occurrences of field commanders issued with the wrong spare parts for their vehicles, inadequate ammunition allocations and indeed an amateurish use of military hardware to name but a few. Because most of past engagements were on the ground, battle condition requires logistic units (transport regiments and battalions, regimental repair shops and hardware supply damps) to be fully operative and equipped with the proper spare parts; Their efficiency increases as they have standardized sets homogeneous vehicles with common parts and proven reliability. This is particularly cardinal when ammunitions are concerned: firearms in Morocco are too diverse: Soviet-made guns (AK-47 and its variants: AK-74, Romanian and Czechoslovakian versions), Western-made (obsolete MAS-36 and MAT-49, M16, FAMAS, H&K MP5, and even WW2 Italian sub-machine-guns) as well as new acquisitions (Singapore copies of Steyr Aug and SAR-80) use each a different type of ammunition, ranging from 5.56mm NATO bullets to 9.mm parabellum. It is quite easy to prove that even with one type of firearm per country of origin, the possible calibration for each gun quickly lead to an inflated number of calibres to manage, a major cause of inefficiency, as well as increasing the likelihood combat units to be issued with the incorrect ammunitions. For instance, the AK-47 uses a 7.62 mm bullet (calibrated 7.62 x 39mm) so do some NATO firearms. however, these are calibrated into a standard 7.62×51 mm bullet, like the FAL (Fusil d’Assaut Léger). Both rifles are widely used in Morocco, and other firearms have a wider range of calibres: MAS-36 has a 7.5mm bullet, Beretta side-arms are 9mm parabellum. This is particularly bad when Morocco orders ammunition, and has therefore to put different orders for different types of ammunition, which not only increases costs for no sane purpose, but also complicates the delicate business of logistics. It is much wiser to scrap the obsolete weapons, and take up a unified set of calibres for light armament. There could be a limited range of calibres to be selected following use: light vs heavy machine guns (typically, that would be 5.56 or 7.62 NATO for individual weapons, and 12.7mm for heavy and support machine-guns) because Morocco is working hand in hand with NATO, the 5.56 mm or 7.62 mm NATO bullets can be good choice (although there is argument among the military about 5 mm ammo and its weaknesses of low velocity and lower probability of a first shot should kill). The ammunition choices are certainly determining the type of weapons the armed forces ought to retain or purchase, and that choice is contingent on the political decision of associating Morocco with UN and NATO interventions.

Sample of uniforms and outfits in the Moroccan Army. the obsolete 'Leopard' camouflage was inherited from the French army, and only elite units are issued with the garment, quite useless when it comes to desert warfare. (Picture: Aujourd'hui Le Maroc)

What applies to guns applies to spare parts for vehicles too: Morocco has a dozen types of vehicles, all of which come from different issuers. Tanks like M60 and M48 do have common spare parts, but these are useless as far as the T72, AMX-13 or VAB are concerned, and even equipment from the same seller have low commonality ratios when there is considerable discrepancy in service date (the commonality ratios are the strongest evidence in favour of integrated and standardized weapon systems). It is crucial for the army to renew its equipment indeed, but choices have to be made in terms of harmonized hardware. Hardware like the M48 Patton or AML armoured vehicle are definitely obsolete tough still kept in store -with all entailed inventory costs-, and so there is a need to either scrap or sell them off to other countries (Lebanon is building up its army to bridge the gap with Hezbollah militia. Good prospect customer), while retaining some for training and target practise purposes.

A good analogy for the ideal tank suited for desert warfare would be that of the French light tank AMX-13: it was designed in the early stages of cold war, and requirement were that of a light chassis with a powerful cannon (first 75mm, then 90mm and 105mm) and subject to possibilities of airborne transportation. Under some operational assumptions, Morocco can defend its southern and eastern borders quite effectively with a small but extremely mobile armoured task force with tanks lighter than regular MBTs, like the AMX-13, but less obsolete, and perhaps with a higher protection. The plausible axis of attack Algerian or Polisario troops would hypothetically launch would involve a massive use of armoured troops (a remnant of soviet-style blitzkrieg) and can carry on an in-depth penetration in Moroccan territory of about 400kms on plain fields, and because soviet-built tanks have a at best a slope engagement of 30° in mountain and hill regions, not more than 100 km. distances are roughly computed on tanks’ average autonomy, and without taking into account defensive actions from the Moroccan forces. Now, the ground forces have two ways to go: either assume battle will take place on our soil- or beyond borders, and behind Algerian lines. For the sake of appeasement and because wars ultimately are definitely a bad outcome, strategic outlines need to be defensive, although allowing for a margin strip of 100-150 km inside enemy territory and avoiding urban centres and subsequently, collateral damages: the purpose of such exercise is not seeking the complete destruction of the opposing force, not even on the basis of pre-emptive strikes; The nexus of any comprehensive military strategy is defence on the border, nothing more.

In any case, large scale battle tanks proved in the past to reach stalemate or very marginal gains for the winning side, an in that case unorthodox strategy could be the key in defeating the enemy. The idea behind tank concentration illustrates the Lanchester law: combined tank fire-power provides more than the mere sum of individual MBTs taken separately, and eventually obtains absolute fire superiority. There is however a paradoxical weakening of the armoured force as concentration makes them vulnerable to air strikes, a fact Morocco should take into account in building a new armoured corps, and an increased liaison with notably ‘hunter-tanks’ helicopters, like the Apache.

Hypothetical battle ground on Moroccan soil in the event of Algerian/Polisario attack. Assumptions attached are as follows: a) Morocco waits for an attack and adopt defensive plans. b) Attack is mainly led by tanks and other armoured vehicles. c) Active engagements are not sought

So there it is: a comparatively small but highly mobile and comprehensive task force to intervene when necessary: MBTs (weighting between 32t and 48t) APCs and AIFV for mechanised infantry, light recon tanks, mobile support and anti-aircraft artillery, and finally engineer vehicles for landscape contingencies, the ground element of a coalesced task force relying on air superiority, an element helicopter can achieve in direct confrontation situations (Operation Desert Storm brutally ended the myth of modern Blitzkrieg by reminding military strategists that armoured vehicles are vulnerable when friendly air cover is not guaranteed). To that effect, and in addition to the SA-342 Gazelle already existing, more Apaches need to be purchased, and can be financed either by selling some material, or indeed getting a deal with the United States (The USA have been giving Egypt some $ 1.3 Billion a year since 1979 in military aid, Morocco can certainly manage to get a fraction of it, large enough to buy a squadron or two). The same applies to other vehicles: NATO vehicles are increasingly fitted for greater commonality parts ratios and are therefore a good trade to renew the existing equipment. The present spending in ground forces is roughly MAD 14.Bn (2009 Budget) and at the time, the Forces Armées Royales spent MAD 10.2 Bn in new acquisitions and maintenance equipment. Because there is much secrecy about these transactions, it is difficult to assess the way things are heading: is there an effort in modernizing ? In fact, there is: I remember 3 years ago I couldn’t help but notice that guards posted around the GHQ (near the Royal Palace) the late Prince Abdellah’s palace (near Mohamed V university) or indeed the Parliament garrison, were issued new rifles instead of the old MAT-49, rifles that looks very similar to the Steyr AuG -a very fine piece of armoury- that turned out to be Singaporean copies SAR-21 (so-called Bull-pup rifles like the SA-80 or the FAMAS). It would look good if the same quality rifles were issued to all corps.

AH64 'Apache' Tank hunter

Other branches of the armed forces do not face the same acute problems as the army does: Air-force fleet looks more homogeneous, even though it has some obsolete planes -in the process of being either retrofitted, upgraded or entirely renewed- (hell, some of them feature on Buck Danny’s comics !) either because of over-extended service, or because of shifting standard mission assignments make the existing equipment no longer fit for service. This might have to do with the fact that requirement are pretty high in that branch. The air-force, besides its purely military assignments, is likely to be increasingly associated with other tasks, ranging from forest fire-fighting or more generally in monitoring coastal borders to prevent illegal immigrants, a task jointly carried out with the Navy. As for the primary armament, some efforts have been made to buy missiles to make up for their temporary disadvantage in air superiority, until F-16 and JF-17 deals are closed. JF-17, the Chinese plane could be a good deal though, as a temporary and inexpensive replacement by the time a more suitable alternative -and its funding- comes along.

Surprisingly enough, the navy got interesting bargains for its ships; This might have to do with the fact that Morocco is involved with joint crackdowns on illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The trouble with ships is that Morocco has to restrict its naval ambition to coastal defence, para-military assignment, and perhaps add a helicopter carrier to its existing fleet (that’s as far as I can get with boats.)

There was a mention earlier on the need for a combined task force to ensure a mobile outfit. That means ground forces will need to free themselves from the rigid, mass armies-like units; For instance, brigades should become ad-hoc structures: as far as the regimental level is concerned, arms classification (Mot. infantry, Armoured, Engineer, Artillery, etc…) can be kept as is, but staff level has to be broken down to allow for a more flexible structure: brigades as large units would not consist of definite units, but rather a contingent aggregate of regiments, the contingency being  specifically the ground field. Brigades would have a larger engineer component if it is expected to engage in difficult landscape.  It is becoming a common practise among NATO armies to break down their large units into temporary combined regiments, so as to fit the terrain and its constraints by increasing availability of a specific expertise: the 4.500 strong German expeditionary force in Northern Afghanistan consists mainly of Explosive Ordinance Disposal units and 233rd Mountain battalion (Gebirgsjäger), units that are more than qualified to evolve in a mountainous, IED-littered environment.

ISAF German vehicle in Afghanistan. the painted Palm tree is similar to the WW2 Afrikakorps symbol

It is quite astonishing to read that Moroccan ground forces can field only 3 camel corps (albeit independent and thus enjoying a great deal of operational flexibility) when it has 2/3 of its troops in the Sahara. One way to remedy to these shortcomings is to create LRDG-like units. The British and Commonwealth armies provide interesting examples of desert commando warfare that can be put to good use. the LRDG (Long-Range Desert Group) was an aggregate of commandos raiding behind German-Italian lines during WW2, with light armament, substantial resources and an outstanding human element. Far from seeking sophisticated weapons for their assignments, they relied on rustic Jeeps and Vickers machine guns, or even camels when there was need for, but most importantly, an in-depth intelligence with local Arab and Bedouin tribes. Up to 1958, Morocco did have similar experienced and battle-hardened soldiers (the MLA-South) that could provide some interesting insights for new commando units, specialized in desert warfare, trained in local dialects and able to mount deep penetration raids in enemy territories. In short, the Moroccan army has to learn from past battles against the Polisario, and develop contingency plans for reprisal raids in any event.

All these proposals are aimed at halving defence expenses: out of the MAD 34.62 Bn budget devolved to defence, there’s a great deal of waste going on. Scrapping unused and obsolete equipment, as well as investment in standardized arsenal should meet a target objective of 2-3% defence expenditure on GDP, i.e. reaching the level of 2000 (2.3%)

Blitzkrieg in the Desert

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on September 18, 2010

Reading “Achtung Panzer” is intellectually very refreshing. Guderian as staff officer, as well as field commander in the trenches, made very good use of all the accounts made of the various -and strangely enough not as rare as one might think- mobile operations in the Western front during the Great War. The result was this book, the very one that provided the theoretical framework for the development of Panzer Divisionen (Armoured Divisions), those that wreaked havoc in Western Europe, Russia and North Africa during World War II. For those with little or no knowledge of Blitzkrieg tactics, or Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, let me go through some preliminary work here. Not so much on the man himself, more of the general framework he set for the Panzers.

General Heinz Guderian, 1888-1954

Guderian has a very unique background. As a cadet, he was assigned to a Jäger Bataillon (10th), Jäger roughly translates to light infantry (like the French Chasseurs, or British Green Jackets), an army corps that bears traditions of stealth, speedy actions and high marksmanship skills, and enjoyed moreover a respectable reputation among the Imperial German Army (The napoleonic Befreiungskrieg of 1813 founded this noble tradition). He then joined the communications troops, both experiences during which he learnt how crucial a condition reliable communications can represent when an armed force is preparing for an organized operation, let alone a decisive offensive. He was not the only one to provided detailed thoughts on mobile warfare at the time: both C. De Gaulle, as well as B. Liddell-Hart also discussed the matter in equally technical terms in the early 1930’s. Anyway, in his book, he describes how a Panzer unit should function: “The characteristics of armoured vehicles ought to correspond to the way we intend to employ them. We will categorize and describe them accordingly:
a) By far the greater number of armoured vehicles should be destined for combat […] We call these machines Panzerkampfwagen (tanks)[…] They are categorized […] more usefully by their primary armament as machine-gun, light, medium or heavy-gun tanks
b) Armoured reconnaissance vehicles (Panzerspähwagen) are used for scouting and they need accordingly have a higher turn of speed than tanks […]
c) Special tasks require appropriately specialized vehicles. This has given rise to amphibious tanks for swimming across water, radio tanks or command vehicles for signals and transmission of orders, bridge laying and mine-plough tanks for engineers” (p.136-137).  This can indeed be found in the pre-1942 standard Panzerdivision. The unit fielded a quite comprehensive aggregate of units:
– 1 Panzer regiment with 3 Armoured squadrons (2 medium Panzer III to each heavy Panzer IV)
– 1 Artillery regiment with three battalions (Regimental Anti-tank weapons, Anti-aircraft and Support artillery)
– 1 Motorized Infantry Brigade made up of 4 Regiments (Panzer Schützen) and a small Motorcycle squad (Kradschützen)
– 1 Assault Engineer battalion
– 1 Division Anti-tank Artillery battalion
– 1 Reconnaissance regiment (Aufklärung)
– 1 Field Hospital Unit
– 1 Replacement Unit

The concentrated attack on a specific (usually weak) point on the enemy front maximizes the likelihood of a breakthrough.

As it were, the Blitzkrieg was well carried out (and WW2 American generals, like the famous G.S. Patton put it well to practise against the Germans prior and after D-Day). Indeed, with a concentrated fire-power, the tanks, with heavy and close air support, could breakthrough the enemy lines, followed closely by the infantry to exploit and secure the push further, all the way to enemy headquarters were communications have already been disrupted and the battle won with minimum cost. The Blitzkrieg also called upon the secrecy of Commando units in order to confuse even more the opposite side and secure strategic points such as bridges or field depots. Units like the Brandburgen battalion were notoriously famous for their behind-enemy lines missions.

After 1945, Desert warfare and contemporary military strategists did apply Blitzkrieg: Indeed, the 1941-1943 Africa front provided the Blitzkrieg with the most “clean” battlefield ever, as well as the harshest logistic problems ever, though it had been carefully recorded for future use. And there it was: the Cold War, beside its nuclear-deterrent aspect, was likely to have a prelude of huge-scale tank battles (Ironically, Germany was to be the battleground): according to declassified US Congress papers, both NATO and Warsaw pact armies maintained large units of mechanized and armoured troops: mid-1970s, the Soviets lined up 168 divisions, 45 of which were armoured, and 115 motorized infantry with 27 battle-ready units stationed in East Germany and Hungary. All in all, the Soviets had at least 70 battle-line divisions on the borders, broadly allocated to the Fulda Gap) NATO also fielded comparable outfits (around 38 Armoured divisions). In the immediate conventional engagements preceding Nuclear War, the units involved would have involved large numbers of tanks, a reciprocate Blitzkrieg as it were. Things changed however, mainly because of the Arab-Israeli wars. Arab armies, supplied with Soviet hardware and heavily influenced by their tactics, built up large stocks of armoured units, but failed to put them to battle, mainly because of the dominant Israeli air force superiority. Even in 1973, when Egyptian tanks moved forward out of AA missiles “umbrella” that protected them so effectively, tank superiority did nothing to prevent Sharon’s task force to infiltrate the Egyptian front, thus trapping their 3rd Army in Sinai. The 1991 Gulf War also proved that large tank units were quite ineffective against an enemy with absolute air superiority. Actually, this was already the case in WW2: during Bocage operations that followed the Normandy landings, and even though German tanks were far superior in quality and fire power to British and American tanks, the Panzers failed to complete their objectives because of the huge damages Allied ground-attack planes inflicted upon them. Tanks however remain a crucial battle component, current strategists tend to confirm their role as spearhead units, but confined to small outfits and to precise objectives, With all the drawbacks and advantages all modern armies could benefit from (including the Forces Armées Royales – FAR). The present wars and military operations are conducted with Cold-War era hardware (the French army, in particular, sees little overseas use for its 50-tons AMX Leclerc) which is not always fit for the new asymmetric warfare. I would also like to venture some thoughts on the present situation in the Sahara, and on the future military capabilities and strategies our Armed Forces might forecast.

As the late King Hassan II said: “[…] sur le plan de la guerre du désert […] l’armée marocaine est actuellement, sinon la meilleure, du moins la seule vraiment opérationnelle” (Jeune Afrique Interview, 1985) the Moroccan Army has a proven record of experience in Desert warfare. Whether with the MLA Sahara raids in 1955-1958, or with the FAR against the Algerian-Polisario units in 1976-1991. For the latter, the Moroccan army suffered painful experiences before it reached the solution of erecting successive defensive walls to prevent Polisario raids, and thus benefiting from the advantages of static warfare. One can always use a bit of historical background on these matters.

Green March and ensuing military actions

After the Green March, General Ahmed Dlimi started moving in FAR units, and the first military clashes with Polisario guerilla occurred as early as February 1976 (meaning just after the Spanish authority over the Western Sahara was De Facto abolished). The FAR were not ready for that sort of warfare, because of many reasons. Their embryonic structure did not allow for large scale operations Indeed the putsch attempts of 1971-1972 led to a severe purge among high-ranking (and usually quite competent) officers that left the Army with virtually no General Staff, and could not, on its own, hold a virtual battlefield of about 170.000 km² (Rio De Oro was controlled by Mauritania until 1979) with a total number of 90.000 soldiers and officers of all branches (1976 figures, IISS). Even when concentrating on vital centres (coastal cities and the phosphate mines in Boukrâa or Guerguarat, the famous “Useful Triangle”), the FAR could not prevent the Polisario from undertaking successful raids, even in non-disputed Moroccan sectors: Tan Tan was reportedly occupied for several hours in January 1979. If anything, the Moroccan army suffered from a costly war (about $1million was daily spent on military operations), even though it was superior in manpower, equipment and training compared to the Polisario, or to the 55.000-strong Algerian Army. Small-scale tank and artillery duels took place -twice in Amgala- between the Moroccan and Algerian forces (Mauritanian forces were involved as well, but Southwards and they quickly pulled out). However, many countries, not only Algeria, supported the Polisario: Libya supplied money and weapons, Cuba and some Warsaw pact countries provided training and hardware as well.

Landrover Mk-1965. One of the main vehicles belligerents used over the war period

However, and until 1983, desert warfare was highly mobile, though not entirely of Blitzkrieg nature. The Polisario, during the early stages of the war, was not organized into a modern-shaped army. It had more common aspects with the late MLA, i.e with Camel-borne infantry, light armament and very few professional military personnel. The Spanish withdrawal provided them with a batch of former Tropas Nomadas NCOs and soldiers, who deserted with modern weapons and considerable field knowledge. The raids were therefore carried out on Jeeps and battle trucks, increasing further their range, autonomy and the inflicted damages on Moroccan strongholds. As a matter of facts, both Morocco and Mauritania hold on to small urban centres, while the Polisario virtually  roamed carefree the desert. The war was therefore fought on the tiny supply lines convoys followed to deliver the much needed hardware and supplies as well as on the bridgeheads both countries were seeking to defend.

In 1979, the FAR sought to capture the initiative, after Mauritania’s withdrawal. A 12.000 men strong Taskforce, Uhud Brigade, was put together. the brigade was heavily mechanized, consisting of MBTs such as M-60s,  T-72, light recce tanks (AMX-13) and Armoured transport (Ratel, M113). This unit, while considerably mobile and well supplied, did not much to prevent any further raids. the Moroccan-style blitzkrieg, because it confined itself to the Mauritanian and Algerian borders, did not achieve satisfactory results because of a number of reasons, among which the imperative of holding the “ground”. Because Morocco has territorial claims, it was politically compelling for them to occupy the whole territory, as a symbol of asserted sovereignty. That meant large numbers of stationed personnel, with all the logistical structure that follows. the Polisario, on the other hand, considered itself to be a liberation movement, and in this case, led an attrition war, the objective of which is to force the FAR to withdraw (like the Mauritanian army in the Rio De Oro mid-1979); Meanwhile, it didnot not need to occupy front-line territory. Things started to change a bit in 1982. Indeed, the first of 6 defensive walls was built, and successive walls brought the war to a static fashion until the ceasefire in 1991. Meanwhile, the Polisario also changed their tactics following the supplies they got: the raids were more like cavalry charges, with T-55 and T-62 tanks that increased further raid ranges, but increased also dependence on oil and fuel (especially with the Algerians and Libyans). Static war, with fixed and continuous fortified positions prevented further raids, and vast minefields left a no man’s land strip in which Polisario troops could no longer threaten FAR positions.

Sucessive Defense Walls, 1982-1987

In a static war, the side with the most numerous troops and the closest to supply lines and depots wins it all, which was the case for Morocco. By 1991, the ceasefire was a de facto field victory for Morocco, though it still continues to pay heavy price in terms of immobilized personnel and monetary cost.

What about now? Is the Moroccan army ready to deliver in a world where all military paradigms have been completely ? Beforehand, let us have a look to their present strength. Before I go on, I must point out that the present data is public; The International Institute for Strategic Studies publishes an “annual report of assessment of the military capabilities and defence economics of 170 countries world-wide. It is an essential resource for those involved in security policy-making, analysis and research”. the 2010 figures shows the following:
* Forces Armées Royales (ground forces): 175.000
1 Security Light Brigade
12 Independent Armoured Battalions
8 Regiments + 3 Mechanized Brigades
35 Standard Infantry Independent Battalions
1 Mountain Troops Independent Battalions
4 Commandos Independent Units
2 Paratrooper Brigades
11 Artillery Independent Battalions
7 Engineer Independent Battalions
2 Airborne Independent Battalions
1 Air Defence Independent Battalion
1 Battalion + 1 Cavalry squadron Royal Guard
* Marine Royale: 7.800
* Forces Royales Aériennes: 13.000
There are also 20.000 Gendarmerie Royale, and 30.000 Forces Auxiliaires (under the Interior Ministry’s supervision)
a) The ground forces material consists of the following:
Main Battle Tanks (MBT): 40 T-72, 220 M-60A1, 120 M-60A3, around 200 M-48A5 (in store)
Light Tanks: 5 AMX-13, 111 SK-105 Kuerassier
Recon Vehicles: 38 AML-60-7, 190 AML-90, 80 AMX-10RC, 40 EBR-75, 16 Eland, 20 M1114 HMMWV (Humvees)
Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicles: 10 AMX-10P, 30 MK III-20 Ratel-20, 30 MK III-90 Ratel
Armoured Personnel Carriers: 400 M-113A1/A2, 45 VAB VCI and 320 VAB VTT
Selp-Proppelled Guns: 5 105mm Mk 61, 217 155mm, 84 M-109A1/M109A1B, 43 M-109A2, 90 (AMX) Mk F3,  60 203mm M-110
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Drone): R4E-50 Skyeye.

The ground troops, as shown, are relatively well equipped, save perhaps for the Main Battle Tanks, as both M60 and M48 tanks, that make up for 2/3 of the overall tank force, are obsolete tanks, even when retro-fitted. Unless the tanks were needed for home defence, investment spendings should indeed go somewhere else. As a member of the United Nations, Moroccan troops are often required to intervene overseas, such interventions require high levels of training, as well as suitable hardware and individual gears: planes and ships for troops transport, adaptable and standardized sets of weapons and gears for theatres of operations. In 2010, Morocco committed troops in the following locations:
KFOR (Kosovo): 222-strong infantry detachment
MONUC (Democratic Congo): 836-strong Mechanized infantry battalion + Field hospital unit.
UNOCI (Côte D’ivoire): 726-strong Infantry battalion

Overall, Morocco committed the equivalent of a regiment. Official pictures often portray Moroccan soldiers and officers either in Leopard camouflage or standard drab-green outfit, both of which are quite obsolete and battle-ineffective. There is little information on how military allowances are spent, although the report caught a glimpse of some deals: In 2008, Morocco ordered ships and planes from Italy, France, Netherlands and the US.

Moroccan Orders: Transport & Fighter/Ground attack Planes, Fast Frigates & Frigate Helicopter

The recent upgrades the Moroccan army undertook the few past years do not consider ground forces as a priority; indeed, significant investments were made to modernize the sea and air fleets, which only reflects the immediate requirements of Morocco’s security: as a close neighbour of the European Union, Morocco, alongside other North-African countries, are the vanguard border of Schengen community. The fleet needs new type of vessels, those that can operate quickly along the coasts in order to intercept illegal immigrant as well as drug smugglers. the Navy moves therefore from a defensive and purely military paradigm, to that of policing and border-guarding role. Things are a bit tricky for the air force. It seems the recent purchase of F-16  might be construed as an attempt to further air supremacy, a doctrine that proves to be useful when battle is engaged on the ground. I am not a military strategist, but it seems that Morocco has a fair chance against, say Algeria when it comes to air warfare; The Algerian Air Force has 196 operational aircrafts, 134 of them are Ground-attack planes. Morocco, on the other hand, has 89 aircrafts, many of which are quite capable of intercepting the ground attack planes, but surely not enough to provide air cover in case of a major military showdown. The direction in which military investment moves, it seems, is for air supremacy. Air Defence too should be upgraded towards a substantial missile arsenal, rather than AA guns (for reference, Air Defence fields the following equipment:  (119 SAM, 12 Tunguska 2K22M SPAAGM, 37 M-48 Chaparral, 70 portable SA-7 Grail, 60 M-163 Vulcan and radar network).

It is worthy to note that military hardware usually denotes of a preference in strategic thinking. These purchases do reflect that as well. The lack of upgrade in other pieces of equipment, is almost as hinting as the earlier. the Army, by adopting autonomous brigade organization, has the means to move to a more flexible approach in terms of units and inter-arms cooperation. Indeed, one can take a look to the way foreign outfits such as the US Marine Corps, organize arms interoperability. The British Chief of Staff also circulated a paper earlier this year, calling for a radical re-thinking of defence policy, and therefore units’ organization within the Strategic Defence Review. This comes as an echo to an earlier paper circulated in 2003, whereby number of troops should be reduced, but more importantly, the ability to provide “tailored” outfits for specific operations, incorporation of infantry battalions into multi-arms regiments and a switch from armoured to reconnaissance criterion. These of course are not applicable to Morocco, for we still need a comparatively large garrison in the South, but there is also a need for autonomous self-sufficient units that can operate in long range and constant air support. And finally, we need smaller yet more effective units that can be deployed everywhere in the world as part of UN or non-UN peacekeeping missions. That effectively means equipment scrap, and more efficient use of money on defence in fewer but newer and more effective equipment.