Olympic Games Air Security Plan
On Tuesday 29th February Exercise TAURUS MOUNTAIN 2 got underway at RAF Waddington. The exercise is one in a series that aim to test the Air Security Plan for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. This exercise brings together all three services and is the first time all elements of the multi-layered defence plan have been integrated together.
The airspace around London and the Olympic park will from mid-July have two levels of restrictions put in place. The outer ring which will encompass Luton, Stansted and Gatwick airports will be Restricted Airspace with flying still allowed but with more restrictions than usual. The inner ring which will encompass Heathrow and the Olympic venue will be Prohibited Airspace; only aircraft that have undergone crew, passenger and baggage screening will be allowed to enter this airspace and only when inbound or outbound to an airport with an exception.
For the purpose of exercise the airspace over the Vale of York was used to simulate the restricted airspace and a number of potential scenarios were played out with the Grob Tutor (usually used to teach elementary flying) acting as the suspicious aircraft.
For this exercise the traditional ground based radar network of the RAF and the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) was augmented by a mobile Type 101 radar from No 1 Air Control Centre along with the Northrop Grumman AN/ANY-2 multi-mode radar of the E-3D Sentry and the Searchwater 2000 radar of Royal Navy’s Sea King Mk7 ASAC both operating in the airborne early warning role.
Lieutenant Commander Paul Maloney explained the difference between the E-3D and the Sea King Mk7 and how they could be used together:
“Both systems have strengths and weaknesses. We can launch from Northolt or where ever we are based in the summer and we can be airborne 15 minutes later with the radar on detecting aircraft and putting out that air surveillance picture whereas the E-3D takes a lot longer to get on station as it has a bigger crew and is based further away. We can be more reactive but obviously we can’t stay airborne as long as the E-3D that can stay airborne for 10 or 11 hours. We are limited to 3 or 4 hours so we can fill the gaps and act as complimentary but if there are key times or events or a high threat there might be times when you want both up looking in different directions using niche capabilities within each aircraft to give a higher definition of surveillance. It is all about layering the surveillance volume. We can either complement each other in times when we fly or in specific niche capabilities that each aircraft has got.”
The data gathered by these systems is combined together to produce a complete air surveillance picture. This can be analysed against a normal picture of aircraft movements that has been built up to detect aircraft that maybe of interest such as aircraft entering the air space when they shouldn’t, diverting from their flight plan or who are not responding or squawking an ID.
With an aircraft of interest detected the next step will be to identify the aircraft and to either regain communication with it or guide it out of the restricted airspace.
Air Commodore Gary Waterfall explained the assets that will be deployed as part of the Air Security Plan that could be used to intercept a suspicious aircraft:
“Typhoons are already on quick reaction alert based around the country ready to get airborne and investigate any aircraft that comes into our sovereign airspace and we need to take a closer look at. Also we are going to forward deploy two of the aircraft to RAF Northolt which is just north of Heathrow. That is so they can be even quicker than they are from where they are currently based at RAF Coningsby and they can provide a better umbrella of coverage, security wise, across the whole South East.”
The Typhoon is a very capable aircraft and can be on station very quickly but whilst the QRA pilots train to intercept a variety of aircraft including helicopters and slow moving light aircraft they might not always be the best option to conduct the intercept. Helicopters will also be but on alert and provide another option.
“Helicopters will be stationed across all three services and I think I need to stress that whilst I’m here in a light blue uniform this is much broader than the Royal Air Force. It is about the whole of defence knitting together and using their expertise where appropriate in whatever domain is needed. So we have Pumas stationed at the TA centre in Ilford and we are going to have Royal Navy and Army Lynx stationed abroad HMS Ocean that will be moored off the pier at Greenwich. They will be equipped with signs to be able to not only talk on the radio but to visually indicate to any traffic that we don’t know about that has come that has come into some of the airspace to deteriorate and steer away.”
The helicopters also provide a different weapon set to the missile and cannon equipped Typhoon. Operating from on board the helicopters will be airborne snipers who have three weapons at their disposal. The first of which is the M1014 Combat Shotgun fitted with a holographic sight. Rather than being an offensive weapon the shotgun will be used to fire flares as part of the escalation process if the suspect aircraft has ignored the attempts at verbal and visual communication. If things progress further the snipers have the L129A1 Sharpshooter rifle fitted with an ACOG sight. This is their preferred weapon and is fired from the sitting position with the rifle on a firing platform fitted inside the helicopter. If the sharpshooter rifle develops a problem the sniper can fall back to the L115A3 Long Range Rifle with a telescopic sight.
RAF Regiment snipers were used for this exercise. They were deployed and operated from the Puma and Royal Navy Lynx helicopters. They have also practiced live firing against model aircraft off the coast of Wales.
“We are also making plans at the moment to put ground-based air defence in around the London area. The decision whether we do or we don’t as yet been made but I’m sure you will all appreciate if we fully integrated it as we are today and plan on it being integrated if we subsequently decide that the assets isn’t actually needed it is going to be easier to pull it out than to inserted it and web it into the tapestry at the last moment.”
Both the HVM LML – the High Velocity Missile Lightweight Multiple Launcher also known as known as Starstreak and the Rapier are being considered for deployment. Starstreak is a portable MANPAD system that can be setup with initial capability in about a minute and you can setup the full capability in less than 20 minutes.
Air Commodore Gary Waterfall also highlighted the Rapier’s ability to be used as part of the ‘identify’ process with its active radar.
Secretary of State for Defence
On Wednesday 29th February the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP visited RAF Waddington and flew on E-3D Sentry ZH103 as it directed two Royal Navy Lynx to intercept a Grob Tutor as part of the exercise.
Speaking of the exercise he said:
“What we primarily are about is making sure that there is a safe and secure Olympics games so people can come to London safe and secure in the knowledge that they are being properly protected. We have a layered responsive here, Police in the lead but the military and the military assets you are looking at today will be standing behind them ready to intervene if necessary so everyone can be sure they are safe and enjoy the games.”
“There is no specific threat against the Olympics, certainly no specific airborne threat, but we are covering off every possibility and our competitors who are coming to London, other nations who are competing and the public in London would expect us to be ready for any eventuality.”
He continued to talk about the assets deployed as part of the Air Security Policy:
“I think the important point is it’s a carefully layered response; anything from a helicopter with a sniper right up to a Typhoon fast jets and ground to air missiles. There will be a range of different responses we can deliver depending on the scale of the threat to make sure that it is a proportional response and we can deal with any situation that arises.”
“Very clearly, there has to be a very careful balance of judgements made whenever a risk or threat arises. This is not new, this is something since 9-11 we do all the time; we look out for any aircraft that is in our airspace that isn’t sending the right response signals. They are routinely challenged and intercepted if necessary. There is a well-established process for doing that.”