from: http://www.scotlandonsunday.com/uk.cfm?id=1279432002 (some newspaper in scottland)
Military want right to down passenger jets
Brian Brady and Jason Allardyce
SENIOR military officers want the right to shoot down civilian aircraft seized by suicidal terrorists, without consulting the Prime Minister.
Tony Blair is resisting the move, which would give the military absolute authority to order RAF jets to blow a hijacked aircraft out of the sky with the loss of hundreds of lives.
High-ranking military officials believe Britain should follow the lead set by the US in the wake of the September 11 attacks last year. American generals have the power to order the destruction of any hostile aircraft, if they do not have time to contact senior politicians.
Military officers in Britain fear that unless they are given the same powers, terrorists could bring down a fuel-laden plane, causing devastation, while they seek ministerial approval.
The Prime Minister, backed by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and senior MPs, has insisted the final judgment must remain with politicians.
But a senior ministerial source last night admitted the military might have to take on the responsibility in a critical situation.
He said: "There might be occasions when we have our suspicions an aircraft is `foul', but they can't raise anybody to make the decision to shoot it down."
The clash between Blair and the military goes to the heart of Britain's strategy for fending off an airborne attack of the type that killed thousands of people in the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington last year.
It emerged amid renewed warnings over the threats terrorists pose to British aircraft and airports. On Friday a flight from Prestwick to Dublin had to be evacuated after a hoax bomb alert at the Scottish airport.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that the RAF has set up special squadrons of Quick Response Aircraft (QRA), made up of Tornado fighters, at strategic sites including RAF Leuchars in Fife, Cornwall and East Anglia.
Pilots have been given special training - including counselling - to prepare them for the task of shooting down a civilian aircraft laden with passengers. They have been issued with rules of engagement detailing how they should identify, pursue and destroy aircraft displaying `hostile intent'.
The QRA jets have been scrambled at least three times since September 11, to intercept aircraft they feared were heading for the Queen's residence at Sandringham, the nuclear power plant at Sellafield or overflying the Midlands. Each was a false alarm.
But with Britain still on high alert for a terrorist attack, the question of who decides on the ultimate action against a rogue aircraft has yet to be resolved.
Last night an MoD insider said: "This is not about the military trying to keep hold of powers because they don't want politicians to take them away.
"There are people who think the military command should at least have the flexibility to make that decision if there was a time pressure."
Senior MoD officers, who have drawn up a list of the 160 most likely targets for terrorist attack, including Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the BT Tower, have told members of the influential MPs' Defence Committee that the ultimate decision rests with ministers.
Desmond Bowen, the MoD's director of general operational policy, said: "This is something we have consulted ministers on."
But the committee's report on Britain's protection against terrorism insisted: "Any decision to shoot down a suspected rogue civilian aircraft must be taken by ministers."
The recommendation was broadly backed by ministers, but a number of MPs have confirmed they were warned that senior figures within the MoD were unhappy with the policy.
One committee member said: "Under no circumstances can they shoot down an aircraft unless they get the political say-so to do that.
"But the flight time is something like 20 minutes from take-off at a London airport to the centre of the city - 10 minutes to get up and 10 minutes' flying time. The reality is that it doesn't give much leeway for spotting a rogue plane, deciding it is hostile and then getting the say-so from politicians to destroy it."
Yesterday Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch called on the government to give the military the powers to shoot down any aircraft deemed to be posing a threat to targets on the ground.