Images of several Russian-made S-350 surface-to-air missile systems installed at Algerian military bases have been circulated in several forums and digital media close to Algiers' spheres of influence.
The images would prove that deliveries of the air interception system from the Almaz-Antey bureau would already be deployed at Algeria's National People's Army facilities after their purchase in 2020. Algiers became the first purchaser of this weapon system in the context of the military escalation in which it is engaged with neighbouring Morocco.
There are doubts about the origin of these images, which could have been leaked by the Algerian military command in order to show arms muscle in the face of a Morocco that is increasingly concluding defence contracts and agreements with Israel to acquire the Iron Dome or the Barak-8, both air defence systems that compete with the S-350.
The S-350 surface-to-air missile system is intended to reinforce Algeria's air defences to intercept both piloted aircraft and ballistic missiles. For these purposes, it has a range of 120 km against piloted aircraft and 30 km for missiles. These ranges make the S-350 a medium-range system. This category of the Algerian arsenal also includes Buk-M2 and S-300 systems. The weapon system is carried on a BAZ-6909 artillery tractor vehicle and fires the same projectiles as the S-400 Triumph system, which is subject to US CAATSA sanctions. The S-350 is accompanied by a radar system and a cockpit. They have the capability to be deployed within five minutes of arriving at their firing position. Images posted on the internet show military installations where at least five of these weapon systems are said to be parked.
According to the Algerian source MENA Defence, a portal analysing the military capabilities of the Maghreb countries, which is biased towards the Algerian view, the images show a military base of the Algerian air force. They could be the military airports of Boufarik or Blida, near the country's capital, in the north of the country. Further west, the L'alat air base could be another option for the location of these systems. This airbase is located a mere 115km from the Moroccan border, a range within the S-350 system's effective radius. A further 15km to the west is the Moroccan border town of Oujda.
The border area between the two countries is a military theatre where tensions have been heightened since the breakdown of dialogue between the two governments in 2021. At the beginning of 2022, Morocco announced the creation of a new military zone to the east, bordering the frontier, while the international press speculated about the installation of a joint military base with Israel, one of Algiers' red lines.
Algeria's Chief of Staff, headed by Saïd Chengriha, planned major military exercises near the border in response to Morocco. It is worth remembering that, in the Algerian military reconfiguration of the 1990s, Chengriha, then at the head of the 3rd military region, based in Bechar, after having been commander-in-chief of the 8th armoured division, was charged with designing a new defence strategy for the border, adapted to the new forms of combat. It was thus that the current chief of the General Staff first set up the defence of the more than 1,500 km of border shared by Algeria and Morocco, most of which is the vast Sahara desert.
Morocco and Algeria increased their military spending by 12% and 8% respectively between 2020 and 2021, which together with a diplomatic climate heated by the Moroccan-Israeli agreements and Moroccan advances in the Sahara suggest a dire future outlook for the region. However, analysts dismiss outright the possibility of an open war, or even a low-intensity war, between the two Maghreb powers. The prevailing idea is that any escalation of hostilities involving a military confrontation would be controlled by the EU, which is committed to building a southern border that is as stable and secure as possible, in order to avoid experiences such as Libya's, which had very negative consequences in terms of security, migration and the economy.