Rogue aircraft will be shot down to protect Olympics
FIGHTERS jets will be prepared to use lethal force against aircraft that enter a restricted zone and present a threat to Olympic security, the Ministry of Defence has warned.
RAF Typhoon fast jets and Puma helicopters with snipers will be among the military aircraft patrolling the zone in central London, which comes into force from today.
Since 11 September 2001, the aviation industry has made it “virtually impossible” to hijack a passenger jet, the MoD said. However, it is preparing for all eventualities.
Should the worst happen, the first step would be to try to communicate with the aircraft and divert it. However, an MoD spokesman confirmed: “The last resort would be to shoot it down.”
Typhoons are equipped for air-to-air combat and carry weapons including advanced medium-range missiles and short-range missiles. Intercepted aircraft will be expected to comply with the directions of the military aircraft.
“As a last resort, we will have lethal force as an option,” said Air Vice-Marshal Stuart Atha, the Olympics air security commander.
Asked who would give the order for lethal force to be used, he added: “The highest level of government makes that decision.” He said using lethal action would be a “worst-case scenario” and that a best-case scenario would be to intercept and gain knowledge of the seriousness of the situation away from the built-up area of London.
Mr Atha was speaking at RAF Northolt in west London where some of the aircraft that will help patrol the restricted area were on display.
The restricted zone, in operation until 15 August, comprises a small inner zone covering central London and the Olympic site in Stratford, east London, and a large zone covering a swathe of the south-east of England.
As well as Typhoon jets based at Northolt, and Puma helicopters with sniper teams, at Ilford in east London, the MoD’s contingency plans include Army Rapier and Starstreak ground-based air defence systems at six London sites; Royal Navy Sea King helicopters at Northolt; and helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, the Navy’s largest ship, on the River Thames in London as a base for helicopter operations as well as accommodation for personnel.
HMS Ocean was due to pass through the Thames Barrier and arrive at Greenwich in south east London last night. The mobilisation of volunteer reservists in support of the Olympics is also under way.
The zones are designed for general aviation, which includes light aircraft, gliders and balloons. No commercial flights will be affected. There will also be restrictions at the Olympic sailing venue at Weymouth in Dorset until 8 September.
At Northolt yesterday, where members of the RAF Regiment showed off their weaponary and equipment, a Home Office spokesman said that for the Olympics, “we are planning on a terrorist threat environment that is severe”.
He added that it was better to be at the severe level in case the threat level needed to be increased. But he said: “We are not suggesting that there is any particular threat or risk to the Games that we know about.”
The Civil Aviation Authority has written to all private pilots and distributed more than 60,000 leaflets to warn about the restrictions. Under the plan, general aviation will not be allowed in the inner zone, although passenger planes heading for Heathrow and London City Airports will not be affected.
Private pilots wanting to fly in the larger restricted zone will have to file a flight plan and comply with Ministry of Defence instructions.
The MoD also revealed yesterday that aircraft intercepted will have to rock their wings, a way of communicating between pilots, and follow the military aircraft and turn away from London.
Flares and lasers could be fired by the military aircraft then, as a last resort, if an aircraft fails to comply with the directions of the military aircraft, it may be considered a threat to security, which may result in the use of lethal force.
A smaller set of airspace restrictions will be put in place from 16 August to 12 September for the Paralympics.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Whilst there is no reported threat to the London Olympics, the public expects that we put in place a range of measures aimed at ensuring the safety and security of this once-in-a-generation event. I am pleased to be able to confirm that the equipment necessary to operate our comprehensive, layered air security plan is now in place.
“I believe this will provide reassurance to residents of, and visitors to, London, and a powerful deterrent.
“There are now 17,000 military personnel involved in the Olympic security effort, every one of whom will play a part in ensuring the games go smoothly and are the national sporting celebration they should be. They deserve everyone’s gratitude.”
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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