Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Please Mind the Missile Battery ; Britain Weighs Placing Weapons on Apartment Rooftop during Olympics

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Please Mind the Missile Battery ; Britain Weighs Placing Weapons on Apartment Rooftop during Olympics

Article excerpt

A leaflet sent to residents of Fred Wigg Tower, part of a public housing project in an unloved corner of the city, said the British military was considering installing a "high-velocity missile system" on the roof.

"It looked like one of those things where you get free pizzas through the post," said Hilal Bozkurt, describing the innocuous- looking leaflet that came through her mail slot recently. "But this was like, free missiles."

The leaflet was from the British Ministry of Defense, and it briskly informed Ms. Bozkurt that her building, Fred Wigg Tower, part of a sad-looking public housing project in a depressed neighborhood in an unloved corner of the city, had been selected as a possible front line against terrorist attacks during the Olympics. Because of the strategic location of the 17-story tower and "excellent all-around view," the leaflet said, the military was considering installing a "high-velocity missile system" on the roof.

"The Air Defense System will be manned by fully trained, professional soldiers," the leaflet said, adding, in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section, that it would "improve your local security and not make you a target for terrorists."

Ms. Bozkurt said she did not think a residential apartment building, even one made of concrete and built in the pugnacious Brutalist style of the 1960s, was a suitable place for a pop-up military base featuring surface-to-air weapons able to travel at three times the speed of sound and hit targets more than three miles, or five kilometers, away in less than eight seconds. "It does frighten you," she said.

The Ministry of Defense said it had not yet made a final decision on whether, in the end, to use Fred Wigg Tower as a missile location, although "it would be sensible to be prepared for the worst," said Gen. Nick Parker, commander of the British Army land forces.

In any case, officials say, ground-based air defense systems, as they call them, are only one piece of a broad program to keep the Olympic Park, with its proximity to the civilian population, safe from attacks via land, water or air. Recent exercises to test the government's Olympics defense program included placing dummy missiles on the roof of the Fred Wigg Tower and on another building, the Lexington Building Water Tower in Tower Hamlets. The missiles -- bolstered by larger ones on the ground -- would be used only as a final line of defense, the ministry said.

During the Olympics, the Royal Navy's largest ship, the amphibious assault ship Ocean, will be docked at Greenwich, and about 13,500 troops are being drafted to bolster the police and the security forces. London's airspace will be patrolled by jets and helicopters, with others on standby equipped with early-warning systems and carrying snipers.

The rooftop plan has gotten the most attention, with some experts questioning the wisdom of using a missile defense system in such a densely populated area.

"Is the government seriously considering the answer to a potential airborne threat is to detonate it over the city?" a former Royal Artillery officer asked in a letter to The Guardian newspaper.

"In destroying the incoming target over a populated area, such as London, any debris would land on this area, including the remains of the target itself (remember Lockerbie after Flight 103 came down?), not to mention the effects if the cargo is chemical or biological in nature," the former officer wrote.

Peter Felstead, the editor of IHS Jane's Defense Weekly, said the military's openness about its weapons plans was designed to send a message to potential attackers. …

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