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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.

RAF Tornado pilots
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."
Russia in Syria

The move comes after Russia's entry into the civil war in Syria in support
of President Bashar al-Assad's government forces. The US has branded
Russia's involvement as "fundamentally flawed", with the Kremlin facing
accusations that it is ignoring IS fighters to go after al-Assad's opponents

According to a report in the Sunday Times
an appraisal carried out by UK defence officials said: "It took six days
for Russia to strike any Isis targets at all. Their air strikes have
included moderate opposition groups who have been fighting to defend their
areas from Isis. Among the targets hit were three field hospitals."

In the past 24 hours Russia's Defence Ministry said
<http://eng.mil.ru/en/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12060572@egNews> that
it has continued its air strikes on IS
in Hama, Idlib, Latakia and Raqqa. It reported that the attacks resulted in
the "complete destruction" of "53 fortified areas and strong points with
armament and military hardware", seven ammunition depots, four field camps
of "terrorists", one command centre, and artillery and mortar batteries.

On 28 September, when speaking to the US state-run Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty, Putin ruled out sending ground troops to Syria, saying it was "out
of question".

I'd like to hear from other comrades on the significance of this. Is this a
serious threat? Is it being exaggerated?

- Amith
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