As combat drones increasingly dominate the modern battlefield, as evidenced by the war in Ukraine, many countries have begun training their fighter pilots to tackle these highly maneuverable suicide drones.
The UK is the latest to join the bandwagon. In their largest mass launch of advanced short-range air-to-air missiles, RAF aircraft recently shot down a record 53 drones.
In more than ten days, pilots from eight squadrons managed to shoot down numerous target drones in the Hebrides Air Weapon Ranges in Scotland last month.
The exercise, conducted using Typhoon and Lightning (F-35 Lightning II) fighters, aimed to give weapons operators and pilots the confidence to fire infrared-guided missiles in a real-time scenario.
As images now widely available on the internet show, the missiles are fired from the plane and explode in the sky. The missiles could be heard making a “whoosh” sound as they were launched to hunt down their target drone.
The Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35 stealth fighters are the British Army’s two main fighter aircraft.
In another instance earlier this year, British F-35s and Typhoons carried out a series of training exercises in offensive and defensive roles during a three-day air combat training exercise alongside partners of NATO and the Joint Expeditionary Force in the Baltic region.
British fighter pilots were confronted with Banshee target drones, developed especially for these training exercises.
With a range of approximately 45 minutes, these drones are used by the Air Force to simulate threats from manned and unmanned systems, including fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as cruise missiles.
During the exercise, Typhoon pilots from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray and RAF Coningsby in Lincoln worked together with Lightning pilots from RAF Marham in Kings Lynn to hit target drones. One of the Royal Air Force pilots involved in the drills described the exercise as “fantastic”.
The pilot told British media that he had exceeded all expectations for the Typhoon’s first live-fire exercise.
“Choosing the weapon and knowing that an actual missile would come off the rail was a unique moment; hearing the missile tone and pulling the trigger, followed by a loud blast sound and slight oscillation of the aircraft, was fantastic. Watching the missile disappear into the sky in front of me was an unforgettable moment; it’s impressive how fast ASRAAM can go,” he said.
The unmissable moment of drone hunting
The drills are also significant because Russia has resorted to widespread use of suicide drones, some built locally, while others were acquired from Iran.
Previously, the United States Air Force shipped its F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter to shoot down an Iranian Mohajer-6 drone that is believed to be heading towards the US military in Erbil, Iraq.
These expendable target drones are a much more affordable alternative to expensive cruise missiles, and shooting them down using missile defense systems is a tedious and very expensive task for the defending military. Therefore, the preparation of fighter pilots to hunt down these drones with air-to-air missiles is practiced.
The drills come as relations between Russia and the UK are at an all-time low in light of the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war and recent “air tensions” between the two nations.
According to Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, the unarmed RAF Rivet Joint was followed by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets last month as it carried out regular patrols in international airspace. One of the Su-27s fired a missile near the RAF aircraft during the 90-minute engagement.
Moreover, following growing concerns of sabotage on undersea cables, a Russian “research” vessel has changed course off the British coast. The Royal Navy is actively following this ship.
The provocative hijacking of Akademik Boris Petrov came just after the Shetland Islands suffered a phone and internet blackout due to cut wires on the ocean floor.
Tensions have risen since the alleged Russian attack on Nord Stream gas pipelines last month. At the end of August, EurAsian Times had reported that a heavily armed Russian vessel took an unexpected course near the Irish Sea, hinting at a transit between two distant neighbors – the UK and Ireland.
Besides the United States, the United Kingdom is one of the largest suppliers of military equipment to Ukrainian forces in its ongoing fight against Russia, which is now in its eighth month.