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War Drums: British Pilots Given 'Shoot to Kill' Order Over Syria

RAF Tornado
Royal Air Force Tornado fighter-bombers flying over Syria are now equipped with air-to-air missiles and have been given the order to fire upon any 'hostile' Russian aircraft. (Public Domain Image)

The situation in Syria has become even more tenuous between Russia and the U.S. and its allies.

Tuesday, the Russian Federation ordered its personnel overseas to transport all family members "back to the Motherland." Then, The International Business Times British pilots had been given a new standing order to shoot down any "hostile" Russian aircraft over Syria.

Such an act could potentially trigger a much bigger conflict:

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.

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"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 U.K.'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.

Previously, the British aircraft were not armed with air-to-air weapons and instead focused their payloads almost exclusively on bombing ordinance. The report quotes an unnamed Ministry of Defense official as saying, "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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