Six residential sites across the British capital of London are being considered for the deployment of ground-based air defense systems during the Summer Olympics, the UK Ministry of Defense said on Monday.
The sites being considered for the surface-to-air missiles have been identified as the Lexington Building in Tower Hamlets, the Fred Wigg Tower in Waltham Forest, the Blackheath Common in southeast London, the William Girling Reservoir in Enfield, the Oxleas Wood in southeast London and Barn Hill in Epping Forest.
The final decision to deploy the air defense systems, which would be capable of taking down aircraft and destroying incoming missiles targeting the Olympic Stadium in London, has not been made yet but sources indicate a decision has all but been made. "No final decision has been taken by the Government as to whether this capability will be deployed as part of Olympics security arrangements however it does form part of Exercise Olympic Guardian," the ministry said.
Exercise 'Olympic Guardian' will take place in the London and Weymouth areas on land, at sea and in the air between Wednesday and May 10, involving both civilian and military authorities who will work in partnership. "The majority of this exercise will be played out in full view of the public and I hope that it will have a secondary effect of reassuring the British people that everything possible is being done to ensure this will be a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games," Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond said on Monday.
The exercise will be played out in three phases - the first centered on Weymouth, the second in the airspace over London and surrounding counties, and the final phase on the Thames. "We need to be confident that we have the right people in the right places, and that we understand how others operate," said National Olympic Security Coordinator Chris Allison.
During the exercise, soldiers will deploy the ground-based air defense systems at the six sites across London and equip them with practice drill missiles. "Activity can be expected at a number of sites in and around London which have been identified as potential locations for the deployment of ground-based air defense systems," a ministry spokesperson said.
But some residents have criticized the government's plans to deploy air defense systems on the roofs of residential buildings. "I was aware of government plans for missiles," Lexington Building resident Brian Whelan told the BBC on Sunday. "I didn't think they would actually be placed on top of people's private residences. It creates a lot of fear. It's a massive inconvenience, and I'm not sure it is entirely necessary as well."
Residents at the Lexington Building, a private gated block of apartments which hold 700 people, were informed through a leaflet on Sunday. "The Air Defense system will be manned by fully trained, professional soldiers," it said. "It will be securely protected and it does not pose any hazard to residents. The system will monitor the airspace and will only be authorized for active use following specific orders from the highest levels of Government in response to a confirmed and extreme security threat."
Responding to a question whether residents will be a terrorist target as a result of having missiles on their roof, the leaflet explained: "Having a 24/7 Armed Forces and Police presence will improve your local security and will not make you a target for terrorists."
The Summer Olympics will take place between July 27 and August 12, followed by the Summer Paralympics between August 29 and September 9. London has hosted the Olympic Games on two past occasions, in 1908 and 1948.