Missile batteries will be placed on the top of residential flats in east London over the coming days as Britain's armed forces prepare to conduct a major trial of their Olympic defence systems.
Defence officials said yesterday that they were in the process of consulting with residents at a number of different locations across the capital as it emerged that a cluster of high-velocity-missiles (HVM) would be placed on the roof on a block of flats containing more than 700 people.
The missiles, which travel three times faster than the speed of sound within 400 metres of leaving their launchers, are part of an intricate network of surface to air missiles which would be used as a last resort to shoot down a kamikaze-style airborne attack on any Olympic venues.
The military is planning to hold a six- day trial of its ground-based air defence system for the Olympics starting on Wednesday. The missiles are part of a London-wide security net built to stop any aerial attack on the Games and will also include the deployment of Typhoon fighter jets and missile batteries launched from warships in the North Sea. Defence chiefs have already begun testing larger Rapier missile batteries in Blackheath and Shooter's Hill, two popular green spaces in south east London.
Rapier missiles have been Britain's standard surface-to-air missile since the 1970s and can be launched from the back of moveable vehicles.
HVM missiles are much more portable but have a shorter range and require the operator to have an eyes-on view of the aircraft they are trying to destroy. The Ministry of Defence insists that no final decisions have been taken yet on which buildings will be armed with which missile systems and that any use of such weapons would pose no risk to locals.
But residents are concerned about their homes being turned into a weapon platform and have complained that the extent of the MoD's consultations over the missiles has been little more than posting leaflets through their door.
Brian Whelan, a journalist and resident of Lexington Building in Bow, east London, said locals received leaflets over the weekend saying that a water tower in their apartment complex had been chosen to host an HVM missile battery. The missiles would be operated by 10 soldiers who would themselves be guarded by police 24 hours a day.
"The general tone of [the leaflet] was: 'Great news, aren't we lucky', but that's not normal, it's not something people should have put on them," Mr Whelan said. "I've looked these (the missiles) up and I don't think they're the kind of thing you can fire over a highly populated area like Tower Hamlets, think of the debris. It says the missiles will only be used as a last resort. It's totally unsuitable," the journalist added.