The Moroccan Armed Services may receive the export version of the Sukhoi Su-34 (NATO reporting name: Fullback) tactical bomber and Amur-1650 diesel-electric submarine, according to the Izvestia daily citing a source in Russia’s shipbuilding industry.
According to experts, Morocco has good reasons for acquiring Russian combat gear, but the export of Amur-1650 submarines is unlikely to commence before 2020.
Rabat and Moscow are discussing the feasibility of the Moroccan Navy’s Amur-1650 submarine acquisition in the format of consultations so far. The ship Morocco has taken interest in is an export version of the Russian-built Project 677 Lada-class (Petersburg-class) diesel-electric submarine. She is to feature the air-independent propulsion (AIP) plant designed to make it unnecessary for her to surface in order to recharge her batteries.
If the Moroccan Navy buys an Amur-1650, the move will boost its capabilities, because the submarine will carry Club cruise missiles – an export variant of the Kalibr (SS-N-27 Sizzler).
Interestingly, Morocco, according to the local media, also is keen on Russian warplanes, particularly the export version of the Su-34 bomber that has also grabbed the attention of Oman and Jordan after it had taken part in the operation in Syria. Ostensibly, Rabat needs advanced weaponry to fight terrorists, but experts presume a confrontation with its neighbor Algeria is a more likely reason. Algeria has been buying Russia’s submarines and Sukhoi jets for a long time.
Nikolai Sukhov, researcher with the Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, and vice-president, International Middle East Studies Club, says Morocco and Algeria have been at odds over Western Sahara for decades. The two countries also claim to be regional powerhouses. They are not about to fight each other, but they try to maintain the balance of forces.
According to the expert, buying the submarine is a matter of prestige to Rabat, because Algeria has a submarine fleet and Morocco has not yet, and Su-34s may come in handy to Morocco to handle quite specific missions, e.g. to counter the Saharan insurgents.
Algeria is switching over to French, US and Chinese armament in hopes to gain an advantage, while Morocco has turned its attention to products of Russia’s defense industry. The king and his inner circle have no prejudice against Russia, all the more so that the latter offers attractive financial terms.
According to the military industry, the export of AIP submarines is worth a long hard look at, because Amur submarines are, first and foremost, sophisticated in terms of operation, and it is not clear if the buyers are capable of operating them effectively or not. Russia has only two ships like that so far – one in trial operation and the other in construction, i.e. none has entered service with the Russian Navy yet, and offering a technology like that for export would not be quite right.
Naval expert Vladimir Shcherbakov has explained to the Izvestia daily that to form a submarine force is expensive. A submarine’s cost includes those of an on-shore simulator, a support system and personnel training. Usually, her cost also includes that of the first weapons suite – torpedoes and missiles that are worth far more than several dozen million dollars.
In Shcherbakov’s opinion, Morocco would better buy Project 636 (Improved Kilo-class) subs – proven, upgraded, Club-carrying and capable of dealing with any targets. Their only drawback is the lack of the AIP capability but the latter is important to operations conducted far in the ocean. It will take some time to complete the development of the Project 677 submarine, which first example is still in trial operation.
However, Russian engineers are hopeful that the problem will be resolved within several years. A Project 677 ship will be the first to receive the advanced power plant. The Rubin Central Design Bureau is looking into the integration of the AIP compartment with the submarine, according to the Izvestia daily.