A team of British military and intelligence officers last week undertook a secret reconnaissance mission to Libya to plan RAF airstrikes against Isis militants in the strife-torn north African state.
Six RAF officers flew to an airbase in eastern Libya, controlled by pro-western militia forces, along with a group of MI6 operatives, diplomats from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and US and French military personnel.
Their mission, near the coastal city of Tobruk, was to build up intelligence on the location of Isis fighters and draw up potential targets for possible British and coalition airstrikes.
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Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo
The RAF is to set up an elite Top Gun-style squadron to hone the dogfighting skills of its fighter pilots.
After two decades of mainly carrying out bombing missions against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders have decided pilots need to boost their aerial combat skills to counter any potential threat from new Russian fighters that patrol Syria and eastern Europe.
The move is part of the expansion of the RAF’s fleet of Typhoon jets, from five to seven squadrons, announced last November.
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A P8 Poseidon. Image: Boeing
Britain’s Ministry of Defence is understood to have dropped a £2bn plan to buy a fleet of US-made submarine-hunting jets for the Royal Air Force.
The proposed purchase of up to nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft was expected to be the centrepiece of the government’s forthcoming defence review, but sources say the project has been shelved after ministers decided the aircraft were “fiendishly expensive”.
The move has raised fears that Britain’s four Vanguard nuclear deterrent submarines and the navy’s new £6bn aircraft carriers could be inadequately protected.
Senior retired RAF officers argued earlier this year that Britain’s nuclear deterrent has been left vulnerable after plans to update a fleet of Nimrod submarine-hunting aircraft were axed in 2010.
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The number of fast-jet squadrons is expected to double, amid fears that years of deep cuts have left the RAF too small to tackle the twin threats of Isis and Russian aggression.
Senior defence sources say the RAF’s senior commanders have made increasing the number of fighter and bomber squadrons from six to 12 a cornerstone of their submission to the government’s forthcoming strategic defence and security review.
The move would be embarrassing for the government, reversing the 2010 defence review which reduced the frontline RAF to its smallest size since the First World War.
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