The Defence of the Realm: Inside Britain's Quick Reaction Alert System

A Tornado F3 on a training sortie, RAF Leuchars, September 22, 2010 - photo (c) Lalage Snow

Yesterday's news that RAF fighters were scrambled when a BMI Baby flight from Prague to Manchester lost contact with air traffic controllers seems as good a reason as any to publish a longer version of my recent piece for the Live section of the Mail on Sunday about the UK's air defence system. I've added it to the Features section, or it can be read HERE.

I'm indebted to Lalage Snow for permission to publish a selection of photos she took during our visits to RAF Leuchars and RAF Scampton last September, and to everyone involved in arranging access to this vitally important but necessarily secretive part of the nation's defences. News such as yesterday's all helps to bring home the singular nature of the QRA mission, and the immense and profound responsibility shouldered by a large and diverse team of what I found to be truly exceptional people.

And while I appreciate that difficult decisions have to be made by government in every department at the moment, I'd definitely like to add my voice to those calling for Leuchars to be spared the post-SDSR axe. My understanding of the issues isn't as thorough as those who will make the ultimate decision, of course: but it seems to make little sense to have spent plenty of people's time, and a not inconsiderable amount of money (though it's an impressively small amount - around £3m for the base infrastructure upgrades - due in no small part to diligent project management by the Station Support Squadron on the base), to ready Leuchars for the transition from F3 to Typhoon in March, only to close such a vitally important station down. 


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