RAF pilots have been asked to consider the idea of flying suicide missions as a last-ditch tactic against terrorists.
Pilots were asked to consider "life or death" decisions
The head of Britain's fast jet squadrons, Air Vice Marshal David Walker, raised the scenario in a "what if" session with senior pilots.
The Ministry of Defence said pilots would never be ordered to sacrifice themselves and the suggestion had only been part of a training exercise.
But the idea was described by Gulf War veteran John Nichol as "abhorrent".
AVM Walker raised the idea while speaking to a group of weapons instructors at RAF High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire from where he commands the air force's 1 Group.
Pilots and commanders had to consider what they would do in a worst case scenario where they had a Taleban or al-Qaeda commander in their sights and found themselves out of ammunition or suffered a weapons failure.
The comments came during a discussion on the changed nature of military operations in the face of attacks like those on 11 September 2001 in the US.
The air vice marshal flew Harrier jump jets with the RAF and was a military assistant to John Reid when he was armed forces minister.
A former RAF navigator John Nichol, whose Tornado jet was shot down during the first Gulf War, said air crews had always been prepared to take enormous risks - even to the point of crashing their planes into the enemy in extreme circumstances.
"Those sort of things have always happened," he said. "But there's a very real difference between somebody saying, 'I'm going to make a personal decision to sacrifice myself', rather than somebody saying, 'I want you to commit suicide'."
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Military flyers writing on the Pprune pilots' website have almost universally condemned the idea.
One described the conference discussion as "a true Blackadder moment", referring to the comedy series set in the World War I trenches.
The debate on that website also raised questions over how reliable military intelligence on potential targets might be, with one pilot saying he did not want to die crashing his plane into a Taleban commander only to find he had killed a plumber taking his children to school.
The Ministry of Defence said the suggestion had not been that pilots would be ordered to undertake kamikaze missions.
"He [AVM Walker] wanted them to think about how they, and their commanders, would react faced with a life and death decision of the most extreme sort - for example terrorists trying to fly an aircraft into a British city, being followed by an RAF fighter which suffers weapons failure," said an RAF spokesman
"These are decisions which, however unlikely and dreadful, service people may have to make and it is one of many reasons why the British people hold them in such high esteem."
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