Nightmare scenario: UK prepared to down airliners to safeguard Olympics

AFP Photo / Carl Court
The UK Defense Secretary is ready to give the order to shoot down an airliner if he believes the Olympic Games are being threatened by a 9/11 style attack.

Speaking to the Evening Standard newspaper, Philip Hammond has said that he is prepared to do whatever it takes to protect London during the upcoming London Olympics. “The decision to engage would be made at the highest levels of government.”

When asked if he was personally willing to give the order to destroy a rogue aircraft that potentially posed a danger, he replied: “Of course…I’m certainly prepared to make decisions.”

Mr Hammond's comments came as Britain's security forces launched a multi-layered operation with the Navy following the Army and Air Force in showing off its military hardware ahead of the Games.

On Thursday, Royal Marine commandos held a huge exercise off the south coast and HMS Ocean sailed up the Thames to become a floating command centre.

Rapier surface-to-air missiles have also been showcased at Blackheath Army Cadet Centre in south-east London as part of the massive 2012 security test on land, sea and in the air, while earlier in the week Typhoon jets moved to RAF Northolt.

Colonel Jon Campbell, commander of the Joint Ground Based Air Defence, told the Daily Mail newspaper: “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.”

The Rapier missile has the power to take down a Boeing 747 full of passengers, if needed, to protect a stadium full of 80,000 Olympic spectators in a terrorism nightmare scenario.

The British military has insisted that the missiles, with a range of up to five miles, could be deployed as the last line of defence.

However, Londoners remain sceptical as experts warn that downing an aircraft would still cause debris to rain from the sky, resulting in high casualties and fires.

Public outrage

Ground-to-air missiles have been a fixture of the Olympic Games and large VIP events in the post-9/11 world, but London's missiles have sparked outrage among residents of an apartment block who learned that the Rapiers might be stationed on their roof.

Occupants of the East London Bow Quarter, that overlooks the GamesPark, were outraged when they were told the site had been chosen as one of a number of proposed plots for the Ministry of Defense’s high-velocity missile system (HVM). Residents say the missiles create a climate of fear.

Occupant Brian Whelan, 28, made headlines when he blew the whistle on the government's plans to the media. He then announced, via Twitter, that we was being evicted from his flat and suggested 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.”

While the move has been deemed necessary to protect the hundreds of thousands expected to visit the capital during the Games, an increasing number of Londoners are voicing concern over what they perceive as an extreme measure.

Mr Hammond, however, remains defiant that the ministry's course is the right one: "My message is that they should be reassured by the military presence,” he said. “There is no risk from the equipment. It’s defensive in nature and pointing skywards.”

Mr Hammond went on to warn protesters not to jeopardise their and the lives of others with "stupid stunts" during the Games.