Government ‘chose not to put defences’ on plane carrying Shapps which Russia subjected to jamming attack

Russia is believed to have jammed the signal of an RAF plane carrying Grant Shapps in an electronic attack described as ‘wildly irresponsible’ earlier this week.

Athena Stavrou
Friday 15 March 2024 21:39 GMT
Grant Shapps in Poland
Grant Shapps in Poland (AFP via Getty Images)

The RAF plane that suffered a jamming attack by Russia whilst Grant Shapps onboard was without key protections due to limitations on government spending.

Russia is believed to have jammed the signal of an RAF plane carrying Grant Shapps in an electronic attack which was described as “wildly irresponsible” earlier this week.

The GPS signal of the plane was said to have been interfered with for half an hour while it passed the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, which sits between Poland and Lithuania.

The defence secretary was aboard an RAF Dassault 900LX Falcon jet, named Envoy, on the way back from Poland on Wednesday when the attack took place. The aircraft’s flight path was visible to trackers.

However, the plane was not fitted with protective systems due to a tight defence budget in place when the jet was put into action in 2022.

The government chose not to give the new jets components such as anti-missile jammers, jam-proof communications or military-standard avionics at the time.

The Defence Secretary The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP and his Team aboard an RAF Envoy IV CC Mk1 (Cpl Tim Hammond/UK MOD © Crown copyright 2024)

Two Dassault 900LX Falcon aircraft replaced the formerly used fleet of BAe146 in 2022. The predecessor was fitted with the relevant protection systems but these were not included on the new jets due to budget cuts.

However, there have always been plans in place to upgrade the jets to include military protections from 1 April 2024. In December 2023, this plan appeared to have been set in motion when a tender notice worth up to an estimated £150m was issued.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “As announced in 2022, the Envoy aircraft are being upgraded to full military and operational capability.

“It’s not unusual for aircraft to experience GPS jamming near Kaliningrad and at no time was the safety of the aircraft threatened.”

(PA Wire)

According to The Times, the RAF wanted to have the planes upgraded this year but this has been pushed back to as late as 2026.

The attack on Wednesday did not threaten the safety of the aircraft but left phones unable to connect to the plane’s WiFi. The plane was forced to use other navigation systems available to the pilots.

With the increased use of drones from both Russia and Ukraine during Moscow’s invasion, electronic warfare such as jamming has taken on a greater importance.

Ben Wallace, who was defence secretary at the time the decision on the protective measures on the planes was made, defended the decision.

He told The Times on Friday: “The RAF is already overspent. I didn’t add the suite of extras because it would have meant taking millions away from military programmes to spend on a vanity project.

“The planes are never going to fly to hostile areas and if ministers need to then they switch to military lift. There are many more military platforms that need protection than a VIP jet. This is completely the wrong priority.”

However, Tim Ripley, editor of the news website Defence Eye, hit out at the decision and told the paper: “These critical aircraft, which are used to fly members of the royal family, government ministers and service chiefs on high-profile missions, are effectively defenceless until protection systems are fitted.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in