Morocco Buys Abrams Tanks, Russia Makes Veiled Threats
The Kremlin used the sale as an excuse to brag about its missiles
Morocco is about to become the world’s newest owner of America’s main battle tank, the M-1 Abrams. And Russia used the sale as an excuse to brag about its missiles … and make a veiled threat.
In 2012, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced plans to sell 200 M-1A1 tanks, plus radios, machine guns, ammunition and other related gear to the North African kingdom. On Sept. 4, the U.S. Army’s Security Assistance Command announced that the deal was going ahead as planned:
The Kingdom of Morocco will modernize its military fleet and receive M-1A1 Abram[s] tanks from the U.S. Army as part of a foreign military sales case coordinated by the Army Security Assistance Command. The case includes associated spare parts, equipment, logistical support and training.
The first 50 tanks will undergo refurbishment at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio following contract award to General Dynamics and Land Systems for $17.2 million. Additional repairs will be done at Anniston Army Depot in Alabama.
The refurbishment process will be accomplished through the Army’s Excess Defense Articles program. EDA allows for our country’s allies to receive materiel that the U.S. government no longer uses. Equipment designated under the program can save the U.S. money by eliminating potential storage or disposal costs of materiel and make room for other items to be stored as they are returned from theater. The EDA program provides the potential for the industrial base to support parts, refurbishment and sustainment of the vehicles.
As the first country to recognize the United States as a nation, Morocco is one of Washington’s longest standing allies. The Pentagon has already sold or gifted the advanced tanks to other important friends such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq.
According to the original DSCA, the spare tanks in question are in the “special armor” configuration. While the Pentagon is tight-lipped about the protective shell on the various Abrams models, this setup is generally assumed to have improved defenses over standard M1A1s.
The older variants already had advanced composite Chobham armor made up of ceramic plates and metal reinforcements. Weighing more than 60 tons, the new version will still have the M-1’s deadly 120-millimeter main cannon and powerful jet turbine engine.
Four days after the Army’s press release went online, Russian media took a shot at the M-1. State-owned outlet Sputnik bragged that Russia’s latest Kornet-EM laser guided missile could “kill the beast:”
Conflicts that have recently flared up in various parts of the world showed that America’s much-trumpeted M-1 Abrams tank falls easy prey to even older types of Russian antitank weapons.
The Kornet-EM is a multi-purpose long-range antitank guided missile system. It was unveiled at the Moscow Airshow in August 2011. The system was also demonstrated at the Russian Arms Expo in September 2013 and May 2015.
The missile system is designed to destroy advanced and modern tanks fitted with explosive reactive armor from 1,100-millimeter to 1,300-millimeter, light-armored vehicles and fortifications.
It can also engage surface-level marine and low-speed aerial targets at ranges between 150 meters and 10,000 meters and offers high immunity against jamming.
Kornet does have an impressive combat resume. When American troops rolled into Iraq in 2003, Iraqi forces reportedly disabled two Abrams with the Russian missiles. Since 2006, Hamas and Hezbollah both claim to have knocked out Israeli Merkava tanks with the weapons, too.
More recently, Islamic State militants have taken on Iraqi M-1A1s with Kornets. To add insult to injury, the brutal extremists captured the weapons from Baghdad’s soldiers.
But while Sputnik did not mention Morocco by name, the Kremlin news agency was clearly responding to that specific sale. The piece ended on a thinly veiled threat:
The Kornet-EM has already won big kudos abroad. Algeria, for one, plans to buy several units.
One of its neighbors will soon be buying Abrams tanks, which means that the Algerians already have a strong “antidote” against The Beast…
Rabat and Algiers have squared off in the past. In the 1970s, the two countries found themselves on opposite sides in the fight for the disputed Western Sahara.
For more than 15 years, Algeria actively supported the Polisario rebel movement, while the Moroccan army fought for control of the territory. In the civil war that followed in Algeria in the 1990s, authorities in Algiers accused the Moroccan regime of supporting the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria. After blaming Algerian security services for backing a terrorist attack in the major city of Marrakesh in 1994, Morocco shut down the border.
But relations have thawed somewhat since then, with both countries offering important diplomatic gestures back and forth. However, the status of Western Sahara remains undecided.