East London residents warned of surface-to-air missiles sited on their roofs for the Olympics

Residents of a gated community in east London got Ministry of Defence leaflets through their doors advising them that their roofs might be commandeered for surface-to-air missiles during the London Olympics this summer. The MoD assured them that the missiles on their roof "will only be authorised for active use following specific orders from the highest levels of government in response to a confirmed and extreme security threat". Gosh, the Olympics sure are wonderful.

Journalist Brian Whelan, a resident at the flats, said: "They are going to have a test run next week, putting high velocity missiles on the roof just above our apartment and on the back of it they're stationing police and military in the tower of the building for two months.

"It's a private, gated community... We have an MoD leaflet saying the building is the only suitable place in the area.

"It says there will be 10 officers plus police present 24/7. I'm not sure if they are going to live in the building."

I'm just waiting for some of our local gang-kids to swipe a few of these.

Here's the brochure (PDF).

Charlie Stross points out that a wily terrorist who buzzes east London with an RC airplane and triggers a launch would succeed in tricking the MoD into showering a crowded residential area with blazing supersonic shrapnel. For bonus points, aim the RC plane to get the missile to shower the white-hot shrapnel over a crowded train station.

London 2012: Missiles may be placed at residential flats



  1. “I’m just waiting for some of our local gang-kids to swipe a few of these.”

    our? is that the right word?

        1.  You’re just arguing semantics now. Local can be relative and subjective. They don’t live in Glasgow, do they?

    1. If “your” gangs have to worry about air superiority, I would hate to see a gang war in your neighborhood!

      I am sure it was just in response to the crip/bloods getting fighter aircraft!

    1. It is a joke. The whole bloody Olympics(tm all rights abused) is a joke. Unfortunately its also true.

      1. Bread and circus.

        Nothing has helped “pacify” the hordes as modern sports and fast food.

  2. “Charlie Stross points out that a wily terrorist who buzzes east London with an RC airplane ”

    Poor Charlie is so going to get himself added to a permanent no-fly list for that…

      1.  Right you are. However! The point is that we wrote that in because of British forces camping out in pre-revolution US homes. The british like comandeering homes. US forces aren;t allowed to.

        1. The british like commandeering homes. US forces aren’t allowed to.

          … well, to be strictly accurate, they’re only not allowed to do it on 2% of the earth’s surface.  

      2. the US Constitution isn’t valid outside the USA, thanks.

        nowai. And here I’ve been pleading the 5th in Canada for nothing.

  3. “I’m just waiting for some of our local gang-kids to swipe a few of these.”

    I’m sure you are joking, but within every joke are some true feelings. 

    If they were to leave the Olympics unguarded, you would blame them as negligent. 

    “Gosh, the Olypmics sure are wonderful.” They are. You seem sarcastic though, as if the evil people who might want to inflict violence on a high-profile event influence the way you view the event itself. 

    And the RC plane part? God, that isn’t even worth breaking down. This article is just dissent for dissent’s sake.

    1.  I’m imagining your house surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by german shepherds. You have a sign on the locked, piked gate that says, Securing My Freedom.

      1. My city actually hosted the Olympics a decade ago, so I am not ignorant of the logistics required to pull off an event of this scale. It was probably even more intrusive, being just after 9/11.

        1. Those being Winter Olympics. No disrespect meant, but it’s on a very different level from the summer ones.

    2. The Olympics are wonderful, eh? Well, just how wonderful are they?  Are they $39-billion-in-taxpayer-costs wonderful?  Are they living-in-a-police-state wonderful?

      1. Because anything that is good has zero downside? We should all stay in our houses and sit quietly because otherwise we might spend money or be in danger? That seems to be what you are saying. 

        What is the alternative? Hope that there are no airborne threats? Buy the apartment buildings and vacate them? There are of course alternatives, but I doubt any would be without negative consequence.

        1.  “Hope that there are no airborne threats” is exactly the correct behaviour for this situation, and almost every other situation.  This is the kind of behaviour that makes perfect sense in a superhero movie.  In real life it indicates a stupid, insane inability to make rational risk/reward judgements.

          Like hosting the Olympics.

          1. Airborne threats like WHAT? “Ze Germans”? With V2s?

            Even if you are worried honestly about air threats, couldn’t you just, ya know, declare a no-fly zone or a restricted-fly zone? Anyone not where they’re supposed to be is gonna be pretty damn obvious with modern radar systems.

            And what type of air attack would even be feasible? It’s not like military hardware is gonna show up unless one nation or another really wants to start a war. So you’ve basically got civilian aircraft, which are already reasonably monitored, and which, combined with the no-fly or restricted-fly zone, wouldn’t be a problem.

            To be perfectly frank, I’d imagine the best chance of getting in via air would be small, hard to detect aircraft such as ultralights or drones, because they don’t show up on radar nearly as well. But you can’t exactly cause a lot of destruction with an ultralight, and again, drones are military controlled.

            Much more severe a threat would be something like a mortar attack – they’re one of the cheapest, simplest, most common and easily attainable military weapons I can think of. They also can’t be stopped once launced.

            Smuggle in a couple of crates of tubes and shells, preferably by sea to avoid border crossings, then arm several dozen small, one- or two-man teams. Have them converge around the location of your choice, and then rain down ordinance on unsuspecting crowds from miles away. A team could set up in an alleyway, on a roof, in a park, under a bridge, anywhere you like so long as they have just enough clearance for indirect fire. They set up the tube, aim, drop a couple shells, and skedaddle. Over and done in 60 seconds, with devastating results thanks to synchronized mass bombardment.

            I mean come on. I’m a goddamn armchair theorist here and I can think of much more realistic and severe scenarios than vague “air threats”.

          2. Eldritch has made exactly my point, but phrased much better.  Exactly what he says.  ‘Hope that there are no airborne threats’ is not exactly a difficult hope.  It’s comparable to ‘hope that the sun continues be a great big hot plasma ball in the sky’. 

        2. At some point it’s worth to step back and consider how much the downside overshadows what little is left of the good. London is certainly making it clear that my country should never ever want to host the Olympics. It used to be fun once, but it’s just not worth it anymore.

        3. The entire Olympics site is directly under the standard landing approach path to Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world. That’s the location that these missiles are going to be fired. So, the area that is going to be “protected” by firing surface to air missile is also going to be full of commercial aircraft.

          Really, I would hope the problems with this attempt at theatrical “safety” would be apparent.

        4. Yes, the one thing we know of for sure is that IFF works perfectly under all circumstances, and never results in an incorrect target being hit.

          I agree, it’s laughable. The passengers of Iran Air Flight 655 would, I’m sure, be laughing heartily if they were not, you know, dead.

    3. No, dissent for dissent’s sake would be claiming that the UK should scrap all of its security and depend on the Power of Love to protect it.

      No one is saying that.  They are simply pointing out the absurdity of mounting StA missiles in the kill range of millions of civilians, without any clear threat from a force that is realistically able to field any aircraft.  

      One of the problems of managing terrorist threats is that politicians and security have almost no incentive to make rational judgments on deploying security measures; they usually end up just hitting the go level and breaking it off.

    4. You know, it is in fact possible to support the idea of keeping people safe without supporting mounting missiles on the roofs of buildings into order to protect a sporting event.

      1. No kidding. Is someone stating otherwise?

        “There are of course alternatives, but I doubt any would be without negative consequence.”

        1. No, please, continue to indulge your masturbatory Tom Clancy fantasies about firing off surface-to-air missiles into one of the busiest airspaces in the world as a way of defending against made-up-threats. It’s truly fascinating.

          1. What are you talking about? I said NO KIDDING. THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES. Reading comprehension is important my friend. 

          2. Not to mention blowing up an aircraft over a populated city like London. You might take away their intended target, but that might be a small victory at that point.

            Likely this is uber last resort foolery, or simply a bit of window dressing security theatre to A) assure people of safety, and B) as a possible deterrent for folks to even try something… “See we might as well not even try that, they have SAMs!”

        2. That’s an empty statement. Everything has negative consequences. You seem to believe that this is a correct and proportionate response to a real-life threat.

          In my careful, detailed, highly comprehensive reading of your statements, I notice the following sentence:

          “If they were to leave the Olympics unguarded, you would blame them as negligent.”

          The only reasonable interpretation of this is failing to mount surface-to-air missiles on the top of residential buildings, aimed into one of the busiest airspaces in the world, is tantamount to “leav[ing] the Olympics unguarded.”

          I’d be fascinated to hear a justification for that statement.

        3. The alternative of doing nothing at all to explode imaginary aicraft over highly populated areas of london would be without negative consequence.

  4. Soldiers demanding residence and use of private property is kinda one of the reasons we Yanks took up arms against the British government.

          1. But London had terror attacks too! Right in the city! And think of how useful surface-to-air missiles would have been to prevent attacks that happened in buses and the Underground.

            Better yet, don’t think too hard about it at all.

      1.  I believe the ’emergency powers’ you are referring to were first laid down by George Orwell. Because if you really believe that there is a good reason for this action, you should seriously consider suicide just so you can remove your own self as a threat. In fact, perhaps we should just launch a massive pre-emptive nuclear strike on the world at large and be done with it.

      2. So they don’t even need to ask? Great.  

        Why do we even have laws? All we need is a scribbled note that says “we have power and you don’t.” Every government official, every policeman and everyone who can afford unlimited lawyers fees will be issued with one. It would save a lot of paperwork.

  5. Sheesh.  If England is so sure that they have enemies hiding under every rock waiting to bomb them at every turn, maybe they should instead consider becoming a nation that people don’t want to wipe off the map.

      1. Nope.  That’s the point, all right. 

        I can’t conceive of a single way that mounting fucking missiles on an apartment block will make anyone safer.

        It might make someone *more electable*…

      1.  Well, they have become amazingly similar in the ways they’ve been trampling on citizens’ rights.

        1. Right, but remember that the UK got out of the Imperialism while the getting was good; now they control most of the world’s banking and a huge portion of its wealth *while* not feeling the need to police and/or occupy the rest of the world.

          Like the good ol’ US of A does.

          1.  Right, but for how much longer are they going to be that way?  The slippery slope fallacy is not always a fallacy.

          2. I think you’re right Matt, and it’s possible Britain will return to that.  But like France or Germany, I would bet that their elites have learned some painful lessons about imperialism.  America, while holding on to it’s geopolitical power has been suckered into the role of world police and I doubt Britain will stand for that any length of time.  

            Though who knows?

  6. User Kosmogrrrl wrote the following comment on Charlie’s blog:

    “I’m genuinely beginning to think that the value of the Olympics to the UK is more about selling UK technologies, both military and of social control. It’s looking more like a gigantic public arms fair than a sporting event.”

    Such a good point, I can’t praise her enough.

    1. That has pretty much been the point of basically every modern Olympic Game – a really, really expensive ad for the host country.

      Examples, Berlin 1936: “Germans are the Master Race”

      Tokyo 1964: “The War was a bitch, but we have recovered now”

      Seoul 1988: “We are not just a military dictatorship, we are also a good place to invest your money”

      Beijing 2008:  “We are not just a military dictatorship,  we are also a good place to invest your money”

    1.  I was just thinking the same thing. If each Olympics becomes a similar security theater nightmare, I don’t think any country will want to host the Olympics. Maybe some sensible less developed country will do a good job in 2020.

      1. Unlikely that the oligarchs live in the flight path or areas that will be urban-renewed to build infrastructure. So, honey badger don’t give a shit.

  7. Am I the only one who thinks it’d be freakin’ sweet to have a couple missiles mounted to the roof of their house for a few weeks?

    1. No, but most would qualify that wish with the desire to be in control of said missiles, instead of having some trigger-happy defense force in control of them.

  8. Better safe than sorry I suppose. I mean it would be slightly awkward if something did go wrong and they said

    “Well we were going to put up some SAMs but it was a bit of a fuss so we didn’t bother”

    1.  But why stop with the SAMs?  Why pick only one specific massively unlikely sociopathic plot to defend against?  Especially, why pick only the one that’s hardest to defend against and least likely? 

      We should spend an extra few million and equip every resident of London with a gas mask.  (Poison gas is way cheaper and easier to spread than an incoming plane.)  Wouldn’t want to say to the survivor’s relatives “well we thought of that, but it was a bit of a fuss so we didn’t bother”.  Better safe than sorry.

      Better put sniffer dogs at every corner to stop explosives.  (Way cheaper and easier to get than a plane, also more dangerous.  And the sniffer dogs don’t actually work.) 

      Remove all car parking, to prevent car bombs.  Inconvenient, sure, but we wouldn’t want to risk missing a threat just in case of making a fuss.  Better safe than sorry.

      Come to think of it, the tube is much more vulnerable.  We should put blast doors on every station, and search every passenger.  Sure, it’s a bit of a fuss, but we wouldn’t want to miss an obvious area of attack.  Better safe than sorry.

      Better just lock the entire population of London up in advance. Because, you know, safer.

      Tactically speaking, an expensive publicly-known defence that only works against one specific attack is completely useless.  A real attacker will just pick a different attack, at cost zero.

      When it comes to governments, ‘better safe’ is always, always, always the excuse that makes you sorry.  Usually too late.

  9. Charlie Stross is, in this case, talking nonsense.  Even if his model plane ruse worked – and I strongly suspect there will be no firing these without visual identification of target by spotter, then there would only be the weight of the missile and the plane falling down – wikipedia suggests a Stinger missile (for comparison) weighs 10 KG – and their terminal velocity would be nowhere near supersonic.  You would be better of throwing some bricks off a tower block.

    Of course, if they were to shoot down a 747, that would be a different story.  Seems like a reasonable last line of defence to me…

    1. I agree that nobody’s firing these things without visual ID.  Assuming we somehow have command and control good enough to separate out a threatening 747 from the civilian traffic in time (we almost certainly don’t), and send up a spotter to check out a suspicious plane (how many flights per day come into London?)…

      …if you shoot a 747 with a Stinger (or, being in the UK, more likely a Starstreak), then at best you’ve converted a massive incoming explosive missile aimed at an urban area to a massive incoming explosive missile with one wing somewhat broken, aimed at a slightly different bit of an urban area.

      They might be mounting something heavier than this, of course.  But they’re still not likely to get the kill order in time.  (And if the system’s fast and hair-trigger enough that they could, it’s probably fast enough to be far more dangerous to civilians than the hypothetical bad guys could ever be.)

    2. Because the one thing the history of warfare teaches us is that command and control in high-pressure, split-second decision-making can always be relied upon to prevent error.

  10. I’d be stupefied if the President of the United States isn’t protected by something similar at all times. In fact there was that story a while ago about the Stinger missile kept in the Secret Service office in the World Trade Center.

    Also, besides being outside the US, I still don’t see how the 3rd Amendment applies – the missiles, if deployed, will be on the roof of a water tower, and while it will be on private property (as part of a housing estate), it’s not in anyone’s private home.

  11. In unrelated news, West London residents are warned of air-to-surface missiles landing on their roofs.

  12. Ministry of Defense sorely needs to sort out their rules of engagement.

    No concievable hypothetical threat can compare to the very real and present threat of storing live munitions in proximity to occupied civilian residential buildings.

  13. I would pay so much money to watch a live webcast of that test-firing. I really want to see them set themselves and the entire building on fire. Somebody Kickstart this bitch!

  14. Why don’t they incorporate the Surface-To-Air Missiles into the Javelin throwing events, and save the local residents from the menacing hassle on their roofs?

  15. In our current economic climate it is vital that nothing be allowed to interfere with the circus, if only because we can’t afford the bread.

  16. So let me get this clear.

    To guard against highly unlikely airborne threats, the London security types decided to place Surface to Air missiles on a few rooftops, close to the flight path of Heathrow.  Presumably this will allow them to shoot down any hijacked airliners over a residential area, rather than in an arena or something.

    Then, in the interest of community relations, they told the people whose houses they would be arming.  Not only did they tell them, they informed them roughly how many police would be guarding each of the sites.  Each of these sites will also presumably have a few people who are trained in using the missiles.

    Now, a terrorist group wishing to inflict harm does not need to actually acquire, install or import these jetliner-killers themselves.  They merely need to plan and coordinate an attack on the ones that are already in place.  Conveniently (for the bad people), the police have been kind enough to inform them of where and what the security will be like.

    One wonders if the security types are as dumb as all that.

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