The RAF is planning to establish a Top Gun-style elite fighter pilot unit to perfect the dogfighting skills of its Typhoon squadron. Commanders are said to be concerned that after 20 years of focussing on bombing raids, RAF pilots are ill-equipped for air-to-air combat.
With Russian warplanes patrolling the air over Syria and eastern Europe, the RAF is understood to believe that the likelihood of a potentially lethal dogfight is higher now than at any point since the collapse of the Soviet Union. As such it is expanding its fleet of Typhoon fighter jets from five to seven squadrons – including the new elite dogfighting unit.
The expansion of the Typhoon fleet means that each squadron can now specialise in one of several priority roles. Some will centre on Brimstone missile strikes, others in Storm Shadow missile strikes, while the so-called Red Air unit will focus on air-to-air combat, according to the Sunday Times.
Red Air was the name of the unit of elite fighter pilot instructors in the 1986 hit movie Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise. The RAF's current 'Red Air' operations are carried out by the 100 Squadron based at RAF Leeming using Hawk jets from the 1970s.
The news comes as it emerged that British warplanes may soon be bombing Islamic State (Isis) militants in war-ravaged Libya. A team of six RAF officers and MI6 agents are understood to have secretly met in eastern city of Tobruk, in the hope of working out how to stop the terrorists strengthening their foothold on the shores of the Mediterranean,
The meeting, which Foreign Office diplomats and US and French military chiefs are also said to have attended, saw a list of possible airstrike targets drawn up. Tobruk would have been chosen as the location because it is under the control of an internationally recognised militia.
Reports of RAF officers taking part in the meeting suggest not only that British warplanes could take part in coalition airstrikes, but that the UK military may also establish a base in the country, the Sunday Times reported. The news comes as Libya's 20-month civil war shows no signs of abating.