A SMALL air force base in Northumberland is gearing up to play the lead role in preventing terrorists striking from the skies during the Olympics.
RAF Boulmer near Alnwick will be overseeing the safety of the airspace over London during the games in the capital which start at the end of July.
Personnel at the base will be at the heart of the response including deployment of Fighter aircraft, helicopters armed with snipers and surface to air weapons should the worst happen and terrorists try to mount an attack from the skies on the biggest event in Britain for years.
A boss at the base last night said he hoped there would be no need for any such action insisting “success is boredom”.
The safety of British skies will all be co-ordinated from Boulmer’s Control and Reporting Centre, a 24/7 365 underground bunker at the base in which over 200 people can be found at work.
Personnel’s normal work is monitoring aircraft activity across Britain and the waters which surround it, up to and including those around the north of Scandinavia.
They look for any aircraft which either deviate from flight plan, switch off their electronic signature or do not talk to air traffic control (ATC). Typhoon fighter planes can then be deployed which will fly alongside the aircraft and establish whether they pose a threat, by using internationally recognised manoeuvres to request they follow.
This work is done at the request of NATO and the Government and involves personnel from RAF Scampton.
Up to now, all such incidents have proved to be false alarms.
For what will be a year by the time of the games, personnel at Boulmer have been preparing for the Olympics, with exercises taking place two or three times a week.
The base’s role will be identical to its normal function, although it will be under orders from UK defence chiefs rather than NATO.
Bosses have been told there is a reduced risk of terrorists using large commercial aircraft to target the games, due to government safety measures.
The risk from light and non-commercial planes is thought to be greater.
Government transport bosses have extended a Prohibited Zone around Heathrow Airport for such crafts to take in the Olympic stadium.
A “known traffic environment” has also been created by applying restrictions to aircraft flight around the capital in which all craft must file a flight plan, turn on electronic signatures and talk to air traffic control.
Bosses have furthermore increased their radar cover of the city for the event.
They have a response team in place of a Typhoon, Lynx and Puma helicopters and – although they are yet to receive ministerial approval – surface to air missiles, with which training has taken place.
The helicopters – said to be better equipped to deal with the slower speeds of light aircraft – will carry snipers trained in air to air sniping, and will also be able to fire flares.
Wing Commander Martin Ogden said: “We are really well prepared for the Olympics.”
“It is an operation we do anyway and we have been doing for years so it made absolute sense that the chain of command for Olympic air space security started at Boulmer.”
The operation will have been successful for all in the CRC at Boulmer if their days are quiet.
The wing commander added: “Success is boredom.”