S.C. Air National Guard takes F-16s to Moroccan air show

MARRAKECH, Morocco -- The South Carolina Air National Guard sent two F-16s to the Aeroexpo Marrakech 2010 in Morocco to participate in the international event Jan. 27-30 and came away with a relationship to last.

Morocco's recent purchase of 24 Block 52 F-16 Fighting Falcons with sniper pods has led to discussions about a partnership between Morocco and the 169th Fighter Wing, South Carolina Air National Guard, according to Col. R. Scott Williams, 169th FW commander.

"The Moroccans wanted to see the Block 52s in the air show so they knew what they were getting," he said. "The 169th [ANG unit] is the only operational block 52 F-16 unit in the Air Force. Other blocks of aircraft exist in the Air Force, however the motors are different."

Colonel Williams discussed similarities in the F-16s and the organization of the 169th FW with senior Royal Moroccan Air Force officials during the trade show. Not only are the Moroccans purchasing the same model aircraft, they have the same engine, a similar avionics package and targeting systems, Colonel Williams explained. "These similarities provide a chance for the Moroccans and the U.S. to learn from each other as the new F-16 unit at Morocco is built."

Maintainers were also on hand to showcase the aircraft, and build relationships.

"The main reason we are here is to foster a relationship with the Moroccans and to learn from each other both operationally and on the maintenance side of the house," said Lt. Col. Scott Bridgers, 169th Maintenance Squadron commander. "We're working together to increase our capability in air space security programs and this purchase brings us closer because we can work together on this."

The Moroccan purchase includes 24 F-16s - the same number assigned to the 169th. Because the Moroccan Air Force is building their unit from the ground up, a delegation may visit South Carolina in the near future to see how the guard unit's infrastructure is organized and equipped.

"We've invited the Moroccans to visit us at McEntire [Joint National Guard Base] to see how we have structured our base," the SCNG Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Stanhope Spears said. "The Moroccan commander is aware of how outstanding the F-16 unit in South Carolina is, and they do want to participate with us as much as possible."

Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, The Adjutant General of the Utah National Guard, also sees the expansion of the partnership as positive for Utah as well.

"As the Moroccan state partner, if we don't have a capability the Moroccans need with the F-16s, we can look to other units such as South Carolina to bring it in," he said.

With more than 30 nations attending Aeroexpo Marrakech, the opportunity exists to establish new friendships and build lasting relationships among nations.

"I'm really impressed with how friendly everyone is out at the show," Col. Williams said. "The Moroccan pilots are well experienced in the F-5 which will make for an easier transition to the F-16."