RAF chief tells Sky News British fighter pilots ready for Russian threat to UK

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The UK's warplanes and aviators are ready to fight should Russian President Vladimir Putin's military pose a threat to Britain or its allies, the head of the Royal Air Force has said.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston told Sky News on Friday that working with partners gives British pilots the "dogfighting combat edge".

A dogfight is when warplanes, such as the UK's F35 or Typhoon, go into close-up, aerial combat against enemy fast jets - a threat that became a stark 21st century reality with the war in Ukraine that pitched Russian and Ukrainian pilots against each other.

Asked how likely it would be the RAF becomes locked in direct conflict with Russia, the Chief of the Air Staff said in an interview Moscow has become "increasingly more aggressive".

He said: "We have to be ready for that and that - to my mind - is the most significant lesson for European security that comes out the invasion."

As to whether that meant the RAF does need to be ready to fight, he said: "There is no doubt in my mind that Russia is the most pressing threat to UK and European security - just look at its behaviour not just in Ukraine but in… Georgia before that.

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"So we have to be ready and we have to be ready to stand by our allies in NATO and defend NATO territory - not just UK territory.

"I am in no doubt that that is the clear and present threat we are training to be ready for. Clearly we hope it won't come to that and deterrence will work but come the day Russia takes an aggressive act against a NATO state we would be ready."

He was speaking at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), in Fairford, Gloucestershire, the world's largest military air show.

The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the need for air forces still to be able to engage in dogfights - something British pilots have not done in anger this century.

Air Chief Marshal Wigston said it was very much a requirement the RAF trains for.

'Combat edge'

"What it boils down to is having the pilots with the training and the skills and experience to tackle any eventuality whether it is firing a missile or a close-in dogfight," he said.

"Here at RIAT this week we have got 67 air force and space force chiefs gathered. These are our allies and partners. We train and work with these people day in and day out and that is what gives us that combat edge, this dogfighting combat edge."

He was speaking as the Ministry of Defence announced its fleet of Typhoon fighter jets would be fitted with a new radar as part of a £2.35bn investment.

The radar will help the aircraft control the air, by jamming the signals of other aircraft and air defence systems.

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