As relations between the West and Russia steadily deteriorate, Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots have been given the go-ahead to shoot down Russian military jets when flying missions over Syria and Iraq, if they are endangered by them. The development comes with warnings that the UK and Russia are now "one step closer" to being at war, a reports says.
RAF Tornado pilots have been instructed to avoid contact with Russian aircraft while engaged in missions for Operation Shader – the codename for the RAF's anti-Isis work in Iraq and Syria. But their aircraft have been armed with air-to-air missiles and the pilots have been given the green light to defend themselves if they are threatened by Russian pilots.
"The first thing a British pilot will do is to try to avoid a situation where an air-to-air attack is likely to occur — you avoid an area if there is Russian activity," an unidentified source from the UK's Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) told the Sunday Times. "But if a pilot is fired on or believes he is about to be fired on, he can defend himself. We now have a situation where a single pilot, irrespective of nationality, can have a strategic impact on future events."
The RAF Tornados aircraft will be armed with heat-seeking Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (Asraams, also called AIM-132 missiles). These weapons, which cost £200,000 each, can reach triple the speed of sound and have a longer range than other air-to-air missiles, allowing RAF pilots to shoot down enemy aircraft without being targeted themselves.
The Sunday Times' report quoted a defence source as saying: "Up till now RAF Tornados have been equipped with 500lb satellite-guided bombs — there has been no or little air-to-air threat. But in the last week the situation has changed. We need to respond accordingly."
"We need to protect our pilots but at the same time," said another source. "We're taking a step closer to war. It will only take one plane to be shot down in an air-to-air battle and the whole landscape will change."
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