By Justin Davenport on April 30, 2012
One battery could be positioned near a playground in Waltham Forest with the others providing round-the-clock cover from Blackheath Common, the Lea Valley Reservoir, Oxleas Wood, Barn Hill in Epping Forest and on top of a block of flats in Bow.
David Cameron will have ultimate responsibility for any decision to fire the surface-to-air Starstreak and Rapier missiles.
The weapons travel at three times the speed of sound with a range of 3.4 miles. General Sir Nick Parker, in charge of Olympic operations, said: “We are practising for the worst-case scenario, not the most likely scenario but we believe that it is prudent to be prepared. It is sensible to prepare for the worst.”
Starstreaks can be fired from the shoulder or armoured vehicles while Rapiers are mounted on trailers. They will be aimed at defending the Olympic Park.
He said people were being consulted over the sites. General Parker said Typhoon fighter jets patrolling the skies would be the first line of defence followed by snipers in helicopters whose role would be to shoot the pilots of planes which failed to turn back from the stadium.
The surface-to-air missiles are being deployed as the third tier of defence aimed at slower or smaller aircraft. The Rapiers will be sited farther out and Starstreak High Velocity Missiles will be deployed in Bow and Waltham Forest just a few miles from the stadium.
The general said dummy missiles would be used during a major army and police security exercise which starts on Wednesday. The eight-day exercise codenamed Olympic Guardian will see the Navy’s largest ship HMS Ocean moored at Greenwich and Typhoon jets conducting low flying runs across London.
He revealed that Typhoon jets had been operating on exercise in London airspace as recently as last Friday. Of the missile sites, he added: “I understand that this is unusual and people may be concerned but I believe that for the greater good it is prudent to us to provide this sort of air security.”
The sites were chosen out of 100 possibilities as the best locations for anti-aircraft systems. The missiles are part of a major military involvement in the Olympics but the general said the role of the armed forces would remain in the background.
A total of 7,500 soldiers and naval officers will be deployed in London during the Games, including a detachment of Royal Marines and special forces personnel.
A 1,000 strong unarmed “contingency force” will be on stand-by to help with searches and security surrounding the games venues.
Police emphasised that no soldiers would be deployed on the streets of London during the games. HMS Ocean will anchor in the Thames to serve as a floating base for more than 800 marines. More than 12,500 police officers will be on duty.
Today police chiefs refused to say how many armed officers would be deployed during the Games.
Residents near the proposed missile sites voiced their concern after being sent leaflets by the Ministry of Defence.
Lynda Greenwood of Barn Hill, Epping Forest, said: “We don’t want it here. People will be up in arms. Using a site in this tiny hamlet to store missiles is dangerous. What’s to stop terrorists from targeting us to get rid of these missiles?”
Mrs Greenwood, 58, who helps her husband run a roofing business, added: “It puts us in danger. What are the authorities thinking?”
Flash Bristow, chairwoman of the Ferndale Area Residents’ Association in Leytonstone, which includes the Fred Wigg Tower in Montague Road, said: “To hear there’s going to be something capable of killing people that is going to be put on a block of flats a few minutes’ walk from my house is shocking.
“The tower is 16 storeys high and is opposite terraced houses and near three primary schools.
“I don’t see why they need to put missiles everywhere. It will make me feel far less safe to know there’s something lurking nearby.”
Howard Shields, chairman of the Blackheath Society, said: “The leaflet talks about putting a ground-based air defence unit at the western end of Blackheath. We have to understand that security is a big general issue during Games.
“Our concern is that so much of the heath is already being used for other bits of the Olympics. We’re anxious this is not going to take another enormous chunk of the heath, and have been assured footprint is quite small.”