A ring of ground-to-air missile launchers could be deployed around London to protect Olympic venues, the Ministry of Defense confirmed yesterday.
Six sites, including two residential complexes, are being tested as launch pads for missile systems capable of thwarting any airborne terror attack.
Starstreak and Rapier missile systems – which have a range of around 4 miles – would be deployed as a “last resort” to shoot down any low flying aircraft intending a 9/11 style suicide mission at one of the Olympic venues.
Defense sources claim radar would identify rogue aircraft and the missiles would be deployed long before they reached built up areas.
But experts have claimed that the systems are useless in poor weather as they rely on the operator being able to see the target.
Nick Brown, editor in chief of IHS Jane’s International Defense Review said, “The system’s weakness is that the missiles are laser-guided, steered onto their target by the soldier keeping his sight on an aircraft. So if the soldier can’t see an aircraft, they can’t hit it.
As a result, the missiles can be badly affected by weather and would also not be able to engage targets ‘masked’ by buildings on their approach to the stadium.”
People living close to where the missiles are to be housed have also expressed concern about the dangers of using such weapons in urban areas.
The systems will be tested in the coming days as part of a major military exercise organized to check Olympic security preparations, although no test missiles will be fired.
Today members of the armed forces visited Bow Quarter in preparation for tomorrow’s exercise. Photographs taken by residents appear to show soldiers carrying large boxes.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said they would be setting up equipment but would not be installing missiles, which are still at the “proposal stage”.
The six sites identified as potential locations for missile launchers are:
:: Bow Quarter, a large apartment complex close to the Olympic stadium.
:: Fred Wigg Tower, a 16 story residential tower block in Walthamstow, east London.
:: Blackheath Common, close to Greenwich where the Equestrian events will be held.
:: William Girling Reservoir, in Enfield, North East London.
:: Oxleas Wood, near Woolwich in East London
:: Netherhouse Farm in Epping Forest, North East London.
The missiles are intended to form part of a “layered” defense system, which will see 13,500 military personnel deployed to support the police for the duration of the games.
Typhoon aircraft will conduct low flying exercises over the capital and helicopters carrying snipers will also coduct practice operations.
General Sir Nick Parker, standing joint commander, said around 100 sites had initially been considered for missile launchers, but that had eventually been narrowed down to six.
He said the aim was to provide an “effective layered plan that provides a proper deterrent” adding that they could be used to defend venues against all manner of airborne attacks from the 9/11 style assault to a smaller “low and slow” attack from a single light aircraft.
He added: “There are two locations where we are going to place missiles on buildings because that is the very best place for them to go to do the jobs they are expected to do.
“This is what is going to be practiced over the next 10 days. We need to see that we can integrate them and they are really in the right place. Once we have done that we can make a final decision and make a final recommendation.”
He added: “I do understand that this is unusual and that people will be concerned. For the greater good it is prudent for us to provide this sort of air security plan. It would be sensible to be prepared for the worst.”
He added that the final decision on whether to fire the weapon systems would be taken at the “very highest political level”.
Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Support for the Olympic Games will be an important task for defense in 2012 and this exercise is about pushing our people and our systems to the limit to ensure that we are ready for the challenge.
“The majority of this exercise will be played out in full view of the public and I hope that it will have a secondary effect of reassuring the British people that everything possible is being done to ensure this will be a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, the National Olympic Security Coordinator, said: “The Olympic Games are unusual so there will be a number of things we are doing which are unusual because the Olympic Games are coming. This is about trying to put in place a proportionate, necessary and sensible plan.
“The purpose of the exercise is to test whether they will work or not and then to make recommendations to the ministers because obviously, it has to have final approval from the ministers and not ourselves.”
Attribution: Mail Online