International Marrakesh Air Show 2016

Morocco – David Oliver

The 5th edition of the International Marrakesh Air Show took place at the Royal Moroccan Air Force base at Marrakesh’s Menara International Airport from April 27 – 30.

Attracting more than 150 aerospace companies, it was attended by 50 official delegations and some 30,000 visitors. The largest number of international exhibitors came from the United States while there was a strong presence from the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC). Among the leading European aerospace companies were Thales, MBDA, Indra and Finmeccanica.

Closer formation flying at the International Marrakesh Air Show 2016. (David Oliver)
Closer formation flying at the International Marrakesh Air Show 2016. (David Oliver)

A notable absentee was Airbus although a Royal Air Force Airbus A400M Atlas made its debut at the show in the static display. Dassault was represented by a French Air Force Rafale C, another type seen for the first time at Marrakesh. The aircraft and its pilot had been based a Al Dhafra in the United Arab Republic to conduct air strikes against ISIL as part of Operation Chammal. The pilot and the ground crew had nothing but praise for the Rafale’s performance and serviceability during its deployment to the UAE and its strike rates against targets in Syria.

Thales was highlighting its ground-based air defence systems and its GroundMaster 200 radar while the President of Thales Holding Maroc, Pierre Prigent announced a new technological innovation.

He said that Thales has been present in Morocco for a number of years, in both the civil and military sectors and since 2009 had developed a strong local industrial presence with Thales Holding Maroc.

The combat proven Dassault Rafale C in the static display at Marrakesh. (David Oliver)
The combat proven Dassault Rafale C in the static display at Marrakesh. (David Oliver)

The group signed an agreement of strategic cooperation agreement with Morocco in November 2011 which put forward three pledges.

Firstly to develop Thales in Morocco through encouraging acquisitions and partnerships. Secondly to support technological innovation by the development of research and a partnership in the sectors of aerospace and space, and cyber-security with the International University of Rabat. Thirdly to carry out local industrial development projects in other technologies.

The Thales Group has a strong presence in Morocco. (David Oliver)
The Thales Group has a strong presence in Morocco. (David Oliver)

As part of this initiative, the Thales Group confirmed its significant investment to build a new plant located in a free zone of Casablanca, Morocco at the Marrakech Air Show. Thales will invest millions of Euros into the construction and the acquisition of SLM Metal 3D Printers from Phenix Systems, a subsidiary of 3D Systems (DDD).

MBDA showcased its full range of land, sea and air weapons at the show. Its Regional Sales Executive, Marc Erbsen explained to EDR that there is a lot of competition for land-based weapons systems in the region from China and Russia. Scope for air-launched weapons has been also been limited since Royal Morocco Air Force selected the Lockheed Martin F-16C Block 52 multi-role combat aircraft although its fleet of Mirage F1 aircraft recently upgraded by the Belgian company, SABCA, are armed with the MBDA Mica air-to-air missile. MBDA have a long relationship with the Moroccan Navy that has acquired three Dutch-built Sigma-class corvettes armed with MBDA Mistral Tetral anti-air missiles and Exocet MM40 Block II anti-surface missiles.

The navy has also recently acquired a French-built FREMM multipurpose frigate also armed with MM40 missiles and Erbsen was confident that in future Morocco will acquire the full French Navy FREMM armament complement including the MBDA SCALP naval land attack cruise missile.

The Thales GroundMaster 200 radar was on display. (David Oliver)
The Thales GroundMaster 200 radar was on display. (David Oliver)

Other French attendees at the Marrakesh Air Show included Losberger Rapid Deployment Systems which has supplied numerous Middle East militaries with deployable field camps and Bachmann hangars and modular shelters that are primarily designed for dry air storage and maintenance.

Safran’s US subsidiary Morpho Detections LLC which provides detection and identification of CBRN threats marketed a range of fixed point and hand-held systems for explosives and narcotics detection at military bases, border crossings, airports and other critical security checkpoints. Prior to the air show it was reported that Safran had agreed to sell Morho and its detection related activities to Smiths Group plc. for US$710 million.

MBDA were promoting its Maritime Superiority systems in Morocco. (David Oliver)
MBDA were promoting its Maritime Superiority systems in Morocco. (David Oliver)

The Spanish company Indra highlighted its recent contract with the European Border Control Agency (Frontex) to incorporate one of its Italian-built Tecnam P2006T MRI aircraft into the EPN Triton maritime surveillance operation in the Mediterranean Sea. The MRI aircraft that was in the static display at the Marrakesh Air Show is currently conducting surveillance in areas around southern Italy to track the movements of vessels involved in immigrant trafficking, and to support rescue efforts. The aircraft collects and conveys in-flight information in real-time to the control station at Brindisi airport, Italy. The information is simultaneously shared with the Coordination and Control Center (LCC) of the Italian Guardia di Finanza located in Rome, and the Frontex offices in Warsaw, which supervise the operation.

The Tecnam P2006T carries surveillance payloads including a FLIR Systems large-format high-definition electro-optical camera, an AIS vessel identification system and a Selex Galileo Seaspray 5000E radar. The aircraft can monitor areas from the coastline to 150 miles out to sea, with patrols lasting from four to six hours.

The P2006T MRI has been successfully tested by the Spanish Civil Guard and Frontex in the Indalo anti-drug operation that is carried out every summer along the south coast of Spain in Operation CLOSEYE in the Sicilian Channel and in the demonstrations of the European Union’s Perseus (Protection of European seas and borders through the intelligent use of surveillance) system carried out in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.

Indra showed the Tecnam 2006T MRI aircraft being used for its Frontex contract. (David Oliver)
Indra showed the Tecnam 2006T MRI aircraft being used for its Frontex contract. (David Oliver)

Although International Marrakesh Air Show 2016 was attended by the Moroccan government with visits by the Minister of Transport and Logistic Equipment and the Minister Industrial and Commerce, Investment and the Digital Economy, many exhibitors missed out on visits from the command in chief of the Air Force and Army, while they thought that many of the military delegations lacked depth in their ranks.

As far as the international media were concerned, there was a lack of up to date information about the daily air show programme and it timings and a comprehensive listing of press briefings and conferences.

However, the weather was excellent and getting into the venue was relative hassle free.