Eurofighters on 24-hour alert against terror attack from sky
London Guardian | July 12, 2007
Eurofighters, designed in the cold war to engage in dogfights with Soviet jets, are being deployed to intercept a perceived new threat - a passenger airliner hijacked by terrorists - the RAF said yesterday.
Pilots based at Coningsby in Lincolnshire will be ready to scramble around the clock as the 1,500mph Eurofighter Typhoons become the quick-reaction alert force for southern Britain. The fighters could intercept an aircraft approaching London in about six minutes.
Any decision to shoot down a passenger aircraft would be taken "at the highest level", an RAF spokesman said. The chain of command in such an emergency would always be ultimately political, not military. If the prime minister were out of contact, other ministers would be deputed to authorise the decision. In the past they have included the home secretary and the transport secretary.
In the event of a hijacked aircraft approaching the capital or a potential target such as a nuclear power station, the joint military-civilian air traffic control centre at West Drayton would be alerted by the pilot's cockpit "hijack" button, which has a direct link to the centre. The West Drayton centre's responsibility extends as far as Newcastle, where air traffic control at Prestwick, near Glasgow, takes over.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, chief of the air staff, said in an interview last December that since the September 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington there had been at least one incident a month when an RAF Tornado on quick reaction alert intervened.
These were triggered by aircrew failing to warn air traffic control of their flight paths, or accidentally deviating from their flight plans.
Ageing Tornado jets based at RAF Leuchars in Scotland will still form the quick response unit for northern Britain until they are replaced by Eurofighters.
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