London: Amidst intelligence reports about likelihood of terror attacks by al-Qaeda, Britain on Tuesday announced that surface-to-air missiles will be deployed at six locations in and around London as part of a comprehensive, multi-layered air security plan for forthcoming Olympics.
Some residents in areas where the Rapier and High Velocity Missile systems are to be sited to ensure the security during the July 27-August 12 mega sporting event have launched petitions to oppose the move.
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."
"Ground-based air defence (GBAD) systems will form just one part of a comprehensive, multi-layered air security plan which, I believe, will provide both reassurance and a powerful deterrent," he said.
Official sources today said that as part of the Ministry of Defence`s (MOD`s) wide-ranging support to the police-led Olympics security effort, the Defence Secretary had announced last year that an air security plan had been drawn up which included the potential deployment of Rapier and high velocity missile systems, primarily to protect the Olympic Park.
In early May, as part of a military exercise, unarmed equipment was put in place at the six proposed sites for a period of nine days.
This saw the air security plan tested extensively and confirmed the utility and integration of the various elements.
As a result, based on military advice, the Government has now agreed to the deployment of ground-based air defence systems - including Rapier and high velocity missile systems - at the six locations for the duration of the Games, the sources said.
The systems will be in place by mid-July, along with
other Defence equipment including Royal Navy helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, which will be moored in the River Thames, Royal Air Force Typhoon jets, which will be temporarily stationed at RAF Northolt, and Puma helicopters at a Territorial Army centre in Ilford.
Collectively, the systems include a range of air defence capabilities, including radar and detection equipment as well as weapons, which will provide a powerful deterrent and protection against the threat of an attack from the air.
Similar systems have been deployed at all recent Olympic Games, the sources said.
The six sites identified earlier for missile deployment include the Lexington Building in Tower Hamlets, Fred Wigg Tower in Waltham Forest, east London, Blackheath Common; Oxleas Wood, Eltham; William Girling Reservoir, Enfield and Barn Hill in Epping Forest.
Hammond said the government had undertaken a wide programme of engagement with the communities affected, involving relevant local authorities, landowners, MPs, council leaders and community meetings.
The interaction, he said, showed that while people had questions and concerns which the government had sought to answer, "broadly speaking communities are supportive of our work."
He added: "A small number of activists object to the deployment of these defensive measures and a legal challenge to the Government`s decision to deploy GBAD has been initiated. The MOD will defend these proceedings vigorously and is confident of defeating them."
His comments follow reports that al Qaeda was plotting to blow up an American airliner in the run-up to this month`s London Olympics and has trained a Norwegian Muslim convert in an attempt to evade airport security.