FULLY-ARMED Tornado and Typhoon fighter planes are to be based at Boscombe Down as the south Wiltshire air base takes on a new anti-terrorist role.

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that Boscombe Down will become a Quick Reaction Alert air base from early next year, helping to cover potential threats to the south and south west air spaces if there is a major 9/11-style terror attack in the UK.

The RAF base at St Mawgan, RAF Marham in Norfolk and RNAS Yeovilton are among several airfields across the UK which are Quick Reaction Alert bases helping to support bases from which fighter planes normally operate from.

But, the MoD has decided to dispose of St Mawgan and has agreed that Boscombe Down will take over its role as from the Spring, 2008, covering the south and south west air spaces. Sharing the role with Boscombe Down will be RNAS Culdrose and RAF Marham.

Quick Reaction Alert bases comprise armed Tornado F3 and Typhoon aircraft held at ground readiness for immediate take-off, Air Surveillance and Control System to provide warning and command and control of the fighters and tanker aircraft also at high ground readiness.

In the event of an airborne attack, or a threat of such an attack, the fighter planes will be scrambled from Boscombe Down and Culdrose.

A MoD spokeswoman said the QRA bases meet the UK's responsibility within NATO to provide air policing of member airspace and under UK national control, they provide an airborne contribution to countering threats against the UK by terrorist organisations or individuals.

Basing RAF fighters at Boscombe Down to play their part in the defence of air space around the UK will see history complete a full circle as the only Victoria Cross awarded to Fighter Command in World War 11 was for Flight Lieut Nicholson, who flew from Boscombe Down to complete an air defence sortie over Southampton.