This Story has a Stinger in its Tail
When I first saw references to ‘Rapier’ and ‘Javelin’ with regards to the Olympics, I thought they referred to specific field and track events, not guided missiles. Yet plans were recently unveiled regarding the siting of a StarStreak SAM battery on a water-tower at Bow Quarter in East London. Incidentally, as the mainstream press constantly referred to the StarStreak as a ‘high-velocity’ missile I found myself wondering if there was such a thing as a ‘low-velocity missile’. Given the MoD’s woeful procurement record, I suspect that there is! Indeed, I can just imagine a senior civil servant blinking owlishly while he peruses the latest on-line weapons catalogues from ‘Arms4U’ and ‘Weapons ‘R’ Us’. The Olympics are nearly upon us. What to buy, what to buy? Intrigued by a particularly lethal-looking device he asks,
“What is this sort of missile called?”
“That sort of missile is called a bomb, minister,” is the despairing reply, “a smart bomb”. Incidentally, as well as ‘smart bombs’ do you think they have bombs that are ‘smart-casual’ – for weddings and other social functions?
Now, the SAMs are operated by the army, but the Government has ensured that both the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy are also involved. RAF Typhoons are at Northolt (probably the first time since WWII that fighters have been based there), while the RN’s largest ship, HMS Ocean, is moored at Greenwich. Ocean is carrying several Lynx helicopters, while RN Seakings will be based at Northolt and RAF Pumas at a TA centre in Ilford.
Now, I’m sure that all these jet fighters, helicopter gunships and SAM batteries will make a tremendous “show of force” – or is it all merely “for show”? It reminds me of when tanks were parked at Heathrow in 2003. Allegedly to deter terrorists, all they deterred were American tourists, who erroneously believed the UK was under martial law. To be fair, I’ll allow that the Typhoons and SAM batteries do have a deterrence value, should a terrorist be planning to use a ‘general aviation’ light aircraft.
However, a more likely reason why a C-172 or PA-28 wouldn’t be the terrorist’s weapon of choice is that the typical light aircraft simply doesn’t possess anywhere near enough kinetic energy to do any great damage. Even terrorists have a basic understanding of physics. You may remember that a few years ago a disgruntled US taxpayer took umbrage with the IRS, and demonstrated his dissatisfaction by unwisely flying his Piper Saratoga into the local tax office. The only real damage he did was to himself and his machine. There was so little left of the aeroplane, they couldn’t decide whether to scrape it up or just paint over it. The building was practically unscathed.
I can’t help but feel that if any terrorists do decide to rain on our (very big) parade, they’ll probably do it with a grubby white transit van filled with an Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil bomb. Not only will such a vehicle not be detectable by an AWACS, but a Typhoon or StarStreak is unlikely to be able to intercept it. Incidentally, despite my scathing tone, I in no way deem the military or the CAA responsible for all this silliness. I blame the government, which – as governments do – simply feels it has to be seen to be doing something. It’s a triumph of style over substance.
By now you should be aware that the CAA has promulgated a leaflet about ‘Actions On Interception’. Unfortunately, the leaflet also points out that the procedures contained within do not comply with ENR 1-12-1 (Procedures on Interception), which is a bit confusing. I asked the CAA about this, who advised I call the MoD, who suggested I call the CAA. Eventually, a very helpful RAF officer explained that, although the procedures are based on ENR 1-12-1, the additional procedures (such as firing flares) were put forward because, in the event of the intercepted aircraft not complying, the situation may quickly escalate and lethal force may be used as a last resort if there is considered a threat to security. So, private pilots, don’t deviate from the Restricted Zone’s rules, or violate the Prohibited Zone.
Anyway, back to the SAMs. Are they a viable threat to the hapless aviator? Well, if you recall Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes’ unfortunate experience with a heavily-armed, on edge SO19 unit in 2005, it would seem anything’s possible – but what to do? An additional problem I have is that far from being camouflaged, a lot of my VP-1 is bright yellow. Furthermore, I have no way of powering RHAW (Radar Homing And Warning) gear, even if I can find some on eBay.
I sought advice regarding SAM counter-measures from some ex-RAF chums. “Have you considered flares?” asked one. “Not since the 1970s” I replied. “Chaff?” said another. “Well, now I think about it, a tight pair of high-waisters could abrade one most disagreeably – but how’s this going to help me avoid being shot down?”
However, all joking aside, it seems to me that the fundamental flaw with the StarStreak is that although it travels at up to Mach 3.5, the effective range is less than five miles. These things are supposed to stop aircraft crashing on London, but if said aircraft is shot down over London, surely it will crash on London? Twice as bad as Catch-22, the situation is a real Catch-44.