The UK Royal Air Force is playing down a national tabloid report which quotes one of its highest-ranking officials as apparently proposing “Kamikaze-style” suicide missions using its fighter aircraft.

Published in today’s edition of The Sun, the story revealed that Air Vice Marshal David Walker, air officer commanding the RAF’s 1 Group, had asked pilots on an ongoing combined qualified weapons instructor course whether they thought it unreasonable to receive an order to fly their aircraft into a target “as a last resort”. Walker commands the RAF’s fighter force of BAE Systems Harrier GR9, Eurofighter Typhoon, Panavia Tornado F3/GR4 and Sepecat Jaguar strike aircraft.

“We are by no means inferring that our people should make the ultimate sacrifice,” a senior RAF officer told Flight International. The source describes the recent debate as “an intellectual and psychological process that has gone on for decades, from whether a Spitfire pilot should take out Hitler’s staff car if his gun has jammed to the use of nuclear weapons and now whether to hit an airliner rather than see it fly into a building.”

With the qualified weapons instructors to become the tactical leaders on their frontline squadrons, the source notes: “It is vital that we consider questions like this on the ground so that you don’t have to think about it the first time your finger is on the trigger.”