Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) plans to reinstate Cold War-era drills due to the threat over a potential deployment of cruise missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Mike Wigston told The Telegraph.
"We'll be re-learning how to disperse", he said, adding that if "the arsenal [of advanced cruise missiles Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been bragging about" was moved to Kaliningrad "we'd be in range".
During a series of "no-notice" scatter drills called Exercise Agile Stance, RAF fighter jets will be ordered to disperse, meaning the warplanes will leave their bases to land at civilian airfields or even on motorways, according to the ACM.
He explained that if the jets are spread out, the target will be "harder" for enemies to destroy. Wigston then referred to WWII, claiming that fixed RAF bases would be as vulnerable to a surprise attack in any future conflict as US forces had been when the Japanese attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbour in December 1941.
The air chief also argued that moving sophisticated Russian cruise missiles to Kaliningrad would be a "step up the ladder of escalation".
It remains unclear what prompted the ACM to speak out about the Russian exclave, given that President Putin only said in late May that it's necessary to equip the Russian armed forces with state-of-the-art cruise missiles.
"An analysis of the military conflicts of recent decades, [as well as] the experience of the development of the world's leading armies shows a growing role played by the effective use of various types of cruise missiles […]", Putin said at the time.
HMS Defender Incident
As for the ACM's remarks, they come a few weeks after the BBC published classified documents left at a bus stop that shed more light on last month's incident with the HMS Defender, which violated Russian territorial waters.
On 23 June, the Russian Defence Ministry said the UK Navy destroyer Defender entered the country's territorial waters near Cape Fiolent in the Crimea. Russia's Black Sea Fleet and border security forces had to fire warning shots to divert the destroyer. The Russian military also scrambled Su-24M fighters to drop bombs in the path of HMS Defender, in order to force the British destroyer to leave Russian waters after it ignored other warnings telling it to do so.
According to the BBC, the secret documents indicated that the UK Defence Ministry planned HMS Defender's "innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters […] in the expectation that Russia might respond aggressively".
The news outlet additionally claimed the documents showed that an alternative route for the warship was considered, stipulating that HMS Defender sail away from "contested waters".
"This would have avoided confrontation, […] but ran the risk of being portrayed by Russia as evidence of 'the UK being scared/running away', allowing Russia to claim that the UK had belatedly accepted Moscow's claim to Crimean territorial waters", the BBC reported, referring to the documents.
Russian Ambassador to the UK Andrei Kelin responded by saying that Moscow prefers to deal with British accusations and security concerns through dialogue and debate.
Kelin was echoed by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who stressed that "such a confrontational stance" by London "can only cause regret and even concern".
"Russia has never been anyone's enemy, and it does not pose a threat to anyone. On the contrary, as President [Vladimir] Putin has repeatedly said, we stand for the normalisation and development of friendly and mutually beneficial relations with all countries […]", Peskov pointed out.