RAF’s largest surface-to-air missile exercise, in which it shot 53 drones out of the sky last month, was a huge message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, an expert has told Express.co.uk. This week, Russia reportedly launched over 30 strikes with the deadly “kamikaze drones’, a terrifying weapon supplied by Iran which swoops down into stationary targets before detonating. Taking out large swathes of critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine, with the nation now forced to undergo rolling blackouts to balance the grid, Kyiv has called on the West to provide defences to blast these lethal weapons out of the skies.
While the UK has pledged to send Ukraine its Amraam rockets to take out missiles, the latest drill could hint indicate that the UK has another plan to help Ukraine fend off Russian strikes.
In a mass firing exercise, Typhoon and Lightning fighter jets from three RAF airfields flew over the Hebrides Air Weapon Ranges in Scotland last month, successfully blasting 53 drones out of the skies.
Over 10 days, pilots from eight different squadrons were involved in the test designed to help the pilots and weapons crews gain experience in using infrared-guided missiles.
Harry Buckle, the author of ‘Just in Case’ who has also worked with MI6, told Express.co.uk: “In a not very subtle message to President Putin, over the past few weeks RAF jets have shot down 53 military specification drones in their largest air-to-air missile mass firing exercise.”
The pilots were aiming at British-made Banshee target drones, which are designed specifically for these kinds of training exercises.
Mr Buckled added: “Developed from the successful propeller-powered Banshee’s these are essentially model planes that have been in-service with the UK military since the mid 1980s.
“The new twin-jet engine-powered version is fitted with twin gas turbine engines giving a level air speed of up to 180 metres a second. The use of an auxiliary fuel tank ensures that the Banshees can stay aloft – in excess of 45 minutes or less – if our gallant boys in blue target them first.”
And while the Banshees are designed for training purposes only, they are reportedly fitted with transmitters, reflectors and and heat sources that “mimic deadly full size military drones such as used by The Russians in Ukraine”.
The Iranian-made Shahed-136 dubbed “kamikaze” drones were used to hit almost a third of Ukraine’s power stations since Monday last week. Strikes on Monday killed four people, with 28 hitting Kyiv alone as citizens ran to cover after hearing five explosions. Others drones were reportedly shot down from the ground by small arms fire and other air defences.
Mr Buckle said: “That’s all really good news, live fire practice is important, vital even, and budget cutbacks for The RAF mean they are all too rare these days.”
During the exercise, Typhoon pilots from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, as well as from RAF Coningsby in Lincoln, collaborated with Lightning pilots based at RAF Marham in Kings Lynn.
One of the weapons technicians involved in preparing the aircraft told Sky News: “Seeing the preparation of the aircraft and missiles was crucial to the more junior members on the squadron, it gave them the opportunity to understand the challenges of a live weapon firing exercise.
“Operating armed aircraft requires all those involved to maintain the highest levels of concentration due to the extra risks involved. As a weapons technician you get massive job satisfaction when you’ve loaded the aircraft, carried out all the post-load testing and watched it taxi away armed.
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“When the aircraft returns ‘clean’ having successfully fired its missiles, it validates the years of training, the hard work and months of preparation.”
Footage of the test has been released, and it shows the missiles blasting from the planes and soaring through the air. A pilot involved in the exercise said: “It surpassed all expectations of what my first live firing exercise on the Typhoon would be.
“Selecting the weapon and knowing a live missile would come off the rail was a unique moment; hearing the missile tone and pulling the trigger, followed by a large whoosh sound and a slight wobble of the aircraft was fantastic.
“Watching the missile disappear into the sky in front of me was a moment to remember, it really is impressive how fast the ASRAAM can go.”