RAF shoots down 'terrorist drone' over US-owned special ops base in Syria

£200k Anglo-French heat-seeking missile does its thing

The RAF has scored its first air-to-air "kill" – where an aircraft downs an enemy aircraft – for almost 40 years after shooting down a drone over Syria.

The drone's type was not disclosed by the Ministry of Defence, which issued a press statement yesterday boasting of the Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR.4's victory.

"The engagement took place on 14 December when the drone activity was detected above the Al Tanf Coalition base in Syria," said the MoD. "RAF Typhoons conducting routine patrols in the area were tasked to investigate."

The Eurofighter Typhoon pilot used an ASRAAM missile to destroy the "small hostile drone." The MBDA-made heat-seeking missile is estimated to cost around £200,000 per unit.

Drone usage in modern warfare ranges from consumer-grade craft on one-way missions carrying grenades and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) right through to large aeroplanes such as the RAF's US-made MQ-9 Reapers and Turkey's Bayraktar unmanned aerial vehicles.

Al Tanf lies in southern Syria a few miles north of the Iraqi border, around 120 miles (193km) east of Beirut. A US outpost at the location is used as a base for coalition forces operating in the area, reportedly including British special forces among other nations. In October 2021 it was hit by what American news outlets described as a "coordinated attack."

A US think tank published a report 10 days ago describing Al Tanf as a "relatively low-cost, high-impact tool" for "disrupting" what it termed "hostile Iranian activity." It appears the US government may have been thinking about shutting down the remote base.

The RAF's last air-to-air strike resulting in a downed aircraft took place in 1982, when a Phantom interceptor's crew accidentally shot down a Jaguar that was peacefully returning to base after a training flight (the pilot ejected safely). The resulting internal inquiry blamed the Phantom crew in spite of a litany of organisational failures leading to a live-armed jet being scrambled on a practice interception with a crew who thought they were carrying their usual dummy payload instead of real weapons.

While the RAF has deployed on numerous occasions over the last 40 years, the air force likes to measure its air defence mission through the absence of combat engagements – reasoning that deterring combatants from seeking military control of the skies is better than having to shoot aircraft down. ®

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