How The RAF Will Shoot
Down Commercial Airliners

By Jason Allardyce and Brian Brady

The rules of engagement for RAF pilots dealing with rogue aircraft are chillingly straightforward.
Documents seen by Scotland on Sunday reveal that Tornado pilots have been told to give civilian aircraft suspected of posing a threat just two chances to turn away or land before blowing them out of the sky - hijackers, innocent passengers and all.
The same pilots have even been given special psychological training to cope with the enormity of what they may be ordered to do.
The instructions set out in a partially censored Ministry of Defence memo underline how seriously the government now takes the threat of a terrorist assault on Britain in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The memo states: "If the pilot of the intercepted aircraft refuses to comply with orders... the pilot of the fighter aircraft... may then authorise the use of a knife-edge manoeuvre to show the pilot of the intercepted aircraft that the intercepting fighter is armed.
"If this fails to elicit a response, *** may order a warning burst of gunfire (any warning burst is to be fired from such a position so as to be immediately recognised by the intercepted pilot as a warning to reinforce the order to land and not an attack)."
During the engagement RAF pilots will report any manoeuvres by the intercepted rogue plane "construed as aggressive or evasive" before a decision is taken, ultimately by Tony Blair, to take it out.
Within minutes of intelligence picking up an unexpected deviation in the flight path of an aircraft towards a British terrorist target, the lives of all those aboard would be lost.
The military has drawn up the rules of engagement to avert potential attacks on over 350 critical national infrastructure sites identified by MI5, including the Houses of Parliament, the Bank of England and military bases and nuclear power plants in Scotland as well as England and Wales.
The procedures to be followed by the RAF,s Quick Response Aircraft team, understood to be based at Cornwall, East Anglia and RAF Leuchars in Fife, are not simply academic or the stuff of training exercises.
Military chiefs insist that the decision to shoot a hijacked civilian plane out of the sky to prevent a larger loss of human life and avoid "inevitable and irreparable evil" would not be taken lightly.
Aggressive manoeuvres can only take place after pilots have first attempted to obtain visual confirmation of a plane,s identity, by operator, aircraft type and registration number and where there is "no reasonable alternative" to the use of force.
While RAF patrols are in the air, communications staff on the ground will watch the location, height and speed of the suspect aircraft, including the potential remaining duration of flight and range of the aircraft.
The memo notes that the degree of force must be "proportional". "In circumstances where a rogue civilian aircraft carries only hijackers and, if brought down would crash without further loss of human life, the application of the principles of proportionality will be uncomplicated.
"Much more difficult, however, is the use of force against a rogue civilian aircraft which will directly threaten the lives of passengers and crew on board that aircraft who are innocent of any crime and who are being held against their will.
"Further, if a downed aircraft is likely to fall in a location where there is a risk of causing further loss of life on the ground, the application of the principle becomes significantly more complicated. "
But this will be judged appropriate if it seems likely that those innocents on board are likely to die "in a very short time" anyway and if the loss of life from shooting it down is "not disproportionate to the consequences which are expected from not doing so".
Another MoD memo reveals that Britain,s defence capability to deal with rogue aircraft also extends to RAF and Army Ground Based Air Defence assets, including high velocity missiles .
Royal Navy air defence ships also carry Sea Dart surface to air missiles and many ships are equipped with Sea Wolf point defence missiles.
The acutely sensitive nature of the issue has persuaded ministers that only they must be allowed to give the final instruction to shoot down a civilian aircraft.
But Scotland on Sunday has learned that senior MoD figures are pressing for this to change. They have warned privately how they fear the requirement to wait for politicians to act could ultimately cost lives.
Handing responsibility to the MoD would bring the chain of command into line with the US where the military has the authority to shoot down civilian aircraft, consulting politicians all the way to the President if time permits.
In evidence, Desmond Bowen, MoD,s director-general of operational policy, one of a group of key military chiefs charged with running the British leg of "Operation Enduring Freedom", acknowledged that "these are appallingly difficult judgements to make".
Military want right to down passenger jets
Brian Brady and Jason Allardyce
SENIOR military officers want the right to shoot down civilian aircraft seized by suicidal terrorists, without consulting the Prime Minister.
Tony Blair is resisting the move, which would give the military absolute authority to order RAF jets to blow a hijacked aircraft out of the sky with the loss of hundreds of lives.
High-ranking military officials believe Britain should follow the lead set by the US in the wake of the September 11 attacks last year. American generals have the power to order the destruction of any hostile aircraft, if they do not have time to contact senior politicians.
Military officers in Britain fear that unless they are given the same powers, terrorists could bring down a fuel-laden plane, causing devastation, while they seek ministerial approval.
The Prime Minister, backed by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and senior MPs, has insisted the final judgment must remain with politicians.
But a senior ministerial source last night admitted the military might have to take on the responsibility in a critical situation.
He said: "There might be occasions when we have our suspicions an aircraft is foul,, but they can,t raise anybody to make the decision to shoot it down."
The clash between Blair and the military goes to the heart of Britain,s strategy for fending off an airborne attack of the type that killed thousands of people in the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington last year.
It emerged amid renewed warnings over the threats terrorists pose to British aircraft and airports. On Friday a flight from Prestwick to Dublin had to be evacuated after a hoax bomb alert at the Scottish airport.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that the RAF has set up special squadrons of Quick Response Aircraft (QRA), made up of Tornado fighters, at strategic sites including RAF Leuchars in Fife, Cornwall and East Anglia.
Pilots have been given special training - including counselling - to prepare them for the task of shooting down a civilian aircraft laden with passengers. They have been issued with rules of engagement detailing how they should identify, pursue and destroy aircraft displaying hostile intent,.
The QRA jets have been scrambled at least three times since September 11, to intercept aircraft they feared were heading for the Queen,s residence at Sandringham, the nuclear power plant at Sellafield or overflying the Midlands. Each was a false alarm.
But with Britain still on high alert for a terrorist attack, the question of who decides on the ultimate action against a rogue aircraft has yet to be resolved.
Last night an MoD insider said: "This is not about the military trying to keep hold of powers because they don,t want politicians to take them away.
"There are people who think the military command should at least have the flexibility to make that decision if there was a time pressure."
Senior MoD officers, who have drawn up a list of the 160 most likely targets for terrorist attack, including Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the BT Tower, have told members of the influential MPs, Defence Committee that the ultimate decision rests with ministers.
Desmond Bowen, the MoD,s director of general operational policy, said: "This is something we have consulted ministers on."
But the committee,s report on Britain,s protection against terrorism insisted: "Any decision to shoot down a suspected rogue civilian aircraft must be taken by ministers."
The recommendation was broadly backed by ministers, but a number of MPs have confirmed they were warned that senior figures within the MoD were unhappy with the policy.
One committee member said: "Under no circumstances can they shoot down an aircraft unless they get the political say-so to do that.
"But the flight time is something like 20 minutes from take-off at a London airport to the centre of the city - 10 minutes to get up and 10 minutes, flying time. The reality is that it doesn,t give much leeway for spotting a rogue plane, deciding it is hostile and then getting the say-so from politicians to destroy it."
Yesterday Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch called on the government to give the military the powers to shoot down any aircraft deemed to be posing a threat to targets on the ground.


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