Typhoon jets, a Voyager tanker and a Falcon 20 playing the target have been practising Quick Reaction Alert skills today off the south coast of England.
The Open Source Intelligence Twitter account Intel Air & Sea followed the event earlier, if you don’t follow them then I’d suggest you go do that now.
Practice QRA taking place this morning.
Voyager ZZ336 TARTN39 providing tanker support
2x Typhoon RIGID callsigns
Darken Europe Falcon 20 playing as the target pic.twitter.com/D0YcswDCyW
— Intel Air & Sea (@air_intel) September 1, 2021
How does Quick Reaction Alert work?
According to the RAF website, the National Air Defence Operations Centre (NADOC) at RAF Air Command, High Wycombe collates information from radar sites across the UK and from civilian air traffic and intelligence agencies.
“They decide the threat is sufficient to scramble Typhoon jets and pass the order to to the Control and Reporting Centres (CRCs) at RAF Scampton and RAF Boulmer. The CRCs have direct contact with the pilots at RAF Lossiemouth and pass on the scramble message. Pilots at RAF Coningsby are ordered to standby in the cockpits of their Typhoons. RAF Coningsby is the second QRA station in the UK.”
Essentially, the jets and their crews are at a moments notice to launch and intercept unresponsive or dangerous aircraft.
To read more about QRA, the visit the ‘Quick Reaction Alert’ section on the RAF website by clicking here.
Why does the UK intercept aircraft outside of its own airspace?
Andy Netherwood, a former Royal Air Force pilot, explained why this is done.
“A country’s sovereign airspace extends 12 miles beyond its coastline, sitting above its territorial waters. However, there are 3 main reasons why unknown or potentially hostile aircraft must be intercepted before they reach this point.”
“The first is flight safety. Whilst sovereign airspace only extends 12 miles from the coastline, countries are responsible for ensuring the safety of civil aviation, including the provision of ATC services, within areas known as Flight Information Regions or FIRs. These extend well beyond the 12-mile limit. Russian long range aviation often transits the London and Scottish FIRs without filing a flight plan, talking to ATC or ‘squawking’ (operating their transponders). This makes them effectively invisible to civilian ATC and is very dangerous as airliners are also flying through this airspace. By shadowing Russian aircraft, the intercepting aircraft can show ATC where they are, allowing controllers to move airliners safely out of the way.
The second reason is because of the speed at which aircraft travel. An aircraft flying at 600 knots will travel 12 miles in little over a minute. Waiting until an unknown or hostile aircraft has entered sovereign airspace before intercepting is too late. It leaves insufficient time to safely carry out the intercept, visually identify the aircraft, provide all the required information back to decision-makers, and carry out any necessary action. Russian aircraft will normally be intercepted by the Norwegian Air Force and then handed over to RAF aircraft ensuring they are continually shadowed.”
“The final reason is to demonstrate capability and intent. One of the reasons Russia carries out these exercises is to test NATO and the UK. A failure to intercept would be interpreted as weakness and encourage further probing.”
For more on why the RAF intercept aircraft around the UK, you can read the full piece.