London appears to be expecting a 9/11-style attack during the Olympics and are prepared to shoot down an airliner should one appear to pose a threat.
The Evening Standard newspaper has quoted the U.K. Defense Secretary, Philip Hammond, as saying on Friday that he will do whatever it takes to protect London during the Olympic Games this summer.
He told the newspaper, “The decision to engage would be made at the highest levels of government.”
When asked by the interviewer if he was personally willing to give the go ahead to destroy an aircraft which is potentially posing a danger, he replied, “Of course…I’m certainly prepared to make decisions.”
Hammond then spoke of the possibility that the country would have to tackle a hijacked airliner with innocent passengers aboard. He stated, “We rehearse these things, we train for them. All the ministers involved are fully versed in the processes they have to go through, the judgments they have to make.
“I’m not going to spell out precisely who is in the loop and who is not, but there are a number of ministers who are involved in the air defense arrangements. The decision to engage would be made at the highest levels of government.”
This comes at a time when the U.K.'s security forces are preparing a multi-layered operation with the Navy, Army and Air Force all preparing their military hardware prior to the Games.
On Thursday this week, Royal Marine commandos ran an exercise off the south coast, and HMS Ocean also sailed up the Thames in order to act as a floating command center.
At the Blackheath Army Cadet Center in south-east London, Rapier surface-to-air missiles are being showcased as part of the massive 2012 security test on land, sea and in the air. Proposed sites include the residential Lexington Building in Bow and Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone.
Residents in these buildings were, naturally, concerned about the implementation but Hammond tried to soothe their fears saying: “We are not talking about a war with an enemy trying to take out our air defenses. These defensive sites are not going to be targets.”
Earlier in the week Typhoon jets were moved to RAF Northolt. Hammond states that RAF Northolt could be given an expanded commercial role during the Olympics, “Northolt is a very important RAF facility close to London. There is scope for some limited additional use for business jets ... in order to make it viable as a continued RAF facility.”
Phil Major / MoD
An RAF Puma flying over the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Puma and Lynx helicopters, operating from HMS Ocean, are likely to support airspace security during the Games
However he stated that rumors that the facility could be used as a big civilian airport to take the pressure off London Heathrow are untrue.
The Daily Mail newspaper interviewed Colonel Jon Campbell, commander of the Joint Ground Based Air Defence. Campbell stated: “We have done as much as we can to allay people's fears."
“The Rapier system has world-class radar on it and is particularly good at picking up low and slow-moving objects in the sky. It means we're able to get the very best picture of what is happening in the skies of London.”
Apparently the Rapier missile has enough power to down a Boeing 747 full of passengers if need be, to protect a stadium full of 80,000 Olympic spectators. The British military have stated that these missiles, which have a range of up to 5 miles, would be deployed as the last line of defense.
However, the public is outraged as the idea that residential buildings are being used to host Rapier missiles. They feel that should the military down an aircraft using the missiles, this would cause a rain of debris on to the city, resulting in fires and high casualties.
Tenants of the East London Bow Quarter, overlooking the Olympic Games Park, are outraged that the site has been chosen to host a high-velocity missile system. They state that this creates a climate of fear.
Graeme Main / MOD
The Starstreak high velocity missile system is part of the proposed ground-based air defence measures which will provide security during the London Olympics
One of the occupants, Brian Whelan, 28, recently made headlines when he leaked the U.K. government's plans to the media. He then announced on Twitter that he was being evicted from his flat and suggests the move was linked to his exposing the missile system.
“Very sad to learn my tenancy is to be terminated and I will be forced to leave my apartment days ahead of the opening ceremony,” Whelan said.
Whelan had said earlier on receiving a leaflet about the missile system that he was "absolutely shocked."
"This is a highly built-up area. I can't imagine any situation in which you could safely use a high-velocity missile over Tower Hamlets," said Whelan.
While the government deems the various military moves necessary to protect the many hundreds of thousands visiting the capital during the Games, many Londoners are now voicing concern over what they feel is an extreme measure.
Mr Hammond, however, still insists that the ministry's plans are the right one: "My message is that they should be reassured by the military presence. There is no risk from the equipment. It’s defensive in nature and pointing skywards,” he stresses.
Mr Hammond then continued by warning protesters not to threaten their lives and the lives of others with "stupid stunts" during the Games.