Nick Ferrari puts David Cameron on the spot: 'Why can't the RAF shoot down drones over Ukraine like they do Israel?'

15 April 2024, 08:55 | Updated: 15 April 2024, 09:40

Nick Ferrari presses David Cameron 'why aren't the RAF shooting down drones over Ukraine?'

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

David Cameron says using RAF jets to shoot down Russian drones over Ukraine would lead to a 'dangerous escalation' in the conflict.

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When LBC's Nick Ferrari asked Foreign Secretary David Cameron why the RAF couldn't shoot down drones over Ukraine he said putting NATO forces in direct conflict with Russian troops would cause a worrying escalation in the conflict.

The conversation comes after Rishi Sunak confirmed RAF fighter jets shot down a number of Iranian drones fired at targets in Israel over the weekend.

Israel said Iran launched 170 drones, more than 30 cruise missiles and more than 120 ballistic missiles in its Saturday night attack.

The former Prime Minister told LBC: "We've done more than any other country individually to help the Ukrainians. We've trained over 60,000 Ukrainian troops, we were the first to give them anti-tank weapons, long-range artillery and tanks."

But, he warned of the risks of using British military assets in direct confrontation with Russia, telling Nick: "I think the difficulty with what you suggest is if you want to avoid an escalation in terms of a wider European war, I think the one thing you do need to avoid is NATO troops directly engaging Russian troops. That would be a danger of escalation."

Read more: Lord Cameron urges Israel to ‘take the win,' don't retaliate and focus on defeating Hamas after Iran’s ‘double defeat’

Read more: UK scrambles to get new precision military laser DragonFire into service for fight against Russian drones in Ukraine

Mr Cameron said the best thing the UK, and other nations could do, was continue to provide financial support to Kyiv.

"Do everything you can to support Ukraine, in terms of money, in terms of diplomacy and, crucially, in terms of weapons. Giving them weapons to defend themselves, training their troops, those things are absolutely the right thing to do."

However, he said, "actually putting NATO forces directly in conflict with Russian forces, I think that would be a dangerous escalation."

When Nick pressed the Foreign Secretary as to why the RAF couldn't help by "shooting down unmanned drones," adding "We do it for Israel, why not Ukraine?" the former PM said it was an "interesting question."

He said using jets was "not necessarily the best way of shooting down missiles and drones, air defence systems are more effective."

He said there was a bigger need for Ukraine to have access to "air defence systems," and the Patriot system in particular.

The Foreign Secretary was speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari
The Foreign Secretary was speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari. Picture: LBC

The Prime Minister told journalists in Downing Street: "I can confirm that our planes did shoot down a number of Iranian attack drones. I want to pay tribute to the bravery and professionalism of our pilots flying into the face of danger to protect civilians."

LBC takes a closer look at the fighter jets used to defend Israel.

- Which fighter jets were used to shoot down Iranian drones?

The warplanes used to shoot down an unconfirmed number of Iranian drones were Typhoon FGR4s, twin-engine fighter jets with a 36ft (11m) wingspan armed with air-to-air missiles, precision-guided bombs and air-to-ground projectiles.

Typhoons can reach maximum speeds of 1,381mph - almost twice the speed of sound - and a single jet costs some £120m.

They have a maximum altitude of 55,000ft (17,000m).

The RAF's Typhoon force consisted of 137 aircraft in seven squadrons as of February 2023.

The fighter jets are supported by Voyager aircraft, 192ft (59m) long air-to-air refuelling tankers equipped with two underwing pods for restocking the Typhoons over long ranges.

The tankers are just slower than the speed of sound, have a 198ft (60m) wingspan and can carry 111,000kg of fuel.

- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Typhoon fighter jet?

The RAF describes the Typhoon FGR4 as an "extremely agile, multi-role combat aircraft" which underpins its military operations at home and abroad.

Typhoons are incredibly manoeuvrable aircraft, boasting high turn rates, impressive top speeds and rapid vertical acceleration.

They are equipped with a technologically advanced weapons system, including Enhanced Paveway II and Paveway IV laser-guided precision bombs.

The jets are also furnished with Meteor, an advanced radar-guided, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) which can engage autonomously at day or night regardless of weather conditions at ranges exceeding 60 miles (100km).

The aircraft's pilot wears a sophisticated helmet known as the Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS), which allows them to "see" through the body of the aircraft, giving them a vital advantage in split-second decision-making, according to BAE Systems.

The British company described the helmet - which allows a pilot to lock on to multiple targets simply by moving their head and prioritise them by voice commands - as "like something out of Star Wars".

The warplanes' weaknesses include their staggering production costs - which drew criticism from MPs in 2011 - and their limited stealth capacities.

- What presence does the UK's air force have in the Middle East?

The RAF's operational headquarters in the Middle East is at Al Udeid air base in Qatar, which it shares with the United States Air Force (USAF) and Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF). The base is responsible for co-ordinating the RAF's contribution to Operation Shader, a military intervention against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

However, it is understood the RAF Typhoons used to intercept the Iranian drone attack were deployed from Cyprus, where the force operates a Permanent Joint Operating Base.

Jets from RAF Akrotiri were deployed from the island nation to help protect Israel - though its president Nikos Christodoulides said he had not been forewarned of the decision to mobilise aircraft from the base.

These aircraft shot down the attack drones in Syrian and Iraqi airspace.

The Government has since confirmed that it will be deploying more jets and air refuelling tankers to bolster its presence in the Middle East.