Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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British Pilots Get Go Ahead to Shoot Down Russian Planes over Syria if Endangered

Ready to fight

(Photo : RAF) RAF Tornadoes

Ready for Ivan

(Photo : RAF) RAF Eurofighter Typhoon

The United Kingdom has reportedly authorized pilots of its Royal Air Force (RAF) to shoot down aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces that threaten them when flying ground attack sorties in support of anti-Assad rebels in Syria allied with the United States.

British media report that RAF pilots have been given the go-ahead to destroy Russian military jets endangering them. Analysts said this move brings the UK and Russia "one step closer" to war.

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Pilots flying RAF Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft and RAF Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 multi-role fighters, however, have been instructed to avoid contact with Russian planes while carrying out missions for Operation Shader, the RAF's bombing campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

The two-seat Tornadoes will now carry at least two heat-seeking AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAM) to combat Russian planes at ranges beyond that of Russian missiles.

These Russian planes will most probably be Sukhoi Su-24 and Su-30 strike aircraft and Su-30 multirole fighters. The Typhoons, which serve as escorts to the Tornadoes, are armed with short-range and long-range air-to-air missiles.

Currently, Tornadoes over Syria fly in pairs with Typhoons amid growing concern over the possibility of accidental clashes with Russia. The arrangement allows the Tornado to benefit from the Typhoon's superior radar and air defense capability.

"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 anonymous source from the UK's Permanent Joint Headquarters told media.

"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 qualifier "if he believes he is about to be fired on" is contentious and leaves the decision to engage in combat wholly with the pilot. This leeway might lead to escalation and intense air-to-air combats, which the RAF can ill afford since fewer than 10 Tornadoes are committed to the RAF's air campaign in Iraq and Syria.

In operations over both countries, the RAF Tornado GR4 fighter-bomber can carry most of the smart bombs and air-to-ground missiles used by NATO. The first Tornado air strike in Iraq took place on Sept. 30, 2014.

RAF sorties into Syria are flown from RAF Akrotiri at the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, a British Overseas Territory on Cyprus. The RAF operates at least eight Tornado GR4 that belong to its 903 Expeditionary Air Wing based in RAF Akrotiri.

On Oct. 13, the UK's Ministry of Defense claimed its bombing campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria had killed over 1,700 ISIL fighters since 2014 while killing no civilians.

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