Monthly Archives: June 2014

MH370 – JORN Radar Lights On But No-one’s Home

LCD monitor

We know The Malaysian Air Force tracked MH370 (which at the time was an unidentified aircraft on their radar) for approximately 40 minutes. But it took authorities 72 hours to report they had tracked the aircraft over the Strait of Malacca at around 02:15. Any theory, except for a disoriented crew, of why flight MH370 was heading in that direction has either not yet been released or is a matter of speculation.

One thing is clear, according to aviation expert David Learmount, who said of the Malaysian sighting: “Clearly they have let an unidentified aircraft pass thru Malaysian sovereign territory without bothering to identify it.”

Regrettably, that is normal. On March 8, as far as we know, the plane was tracked by primary Air Defence Radars turning left and heading out over the Malacca Strait on a West x North/West heading. There was no distress call issued or received from MH370. Therefore, conditions were normal.

Anthony Rumsford, an Airbus A380 Captain with Emirates said, “At the time there was probably no operator actually following the flight.” He stated that countries like Malaysia and Thailand [who also tracked the aircraft] do not maintain a rapid response air defense posture unless it is considered either necessary or during a military exercise. “Most pilots have concluded MH370’s track was probably determined by Malaysia checking its records after the fact.”

Approximately 1 hour after MH370 turned West, and flew out of primary radar range, we know the aircraft was deliberately turned South and into the Indian Ocean.

According to Inmarsat data, the last fix on MH370 occurred within 30 minutes of when it would have ran out of fuel. That final fix is somewhere thousands of miles off the coast of Western Australia. Authorities are planning a second search of that “somewhere out there” because they are convinced MH370 lies at the bottom of the Indian Ocean…somewhere.

Over three months on many people are unconvinced that scenario is true. In an uncomfortable limbo between what is evidence and what is speculation, new media is asking why if MH370 flew on for several hours, deep into the Southern Indian Ocean, why was it not picked up by The Australian Jindalee over the horizon (JORN) radar?

The fact is it may well have been. Or, as David Learmount said: “Maybe Australia’s defenses, like their Malaysian counterparts, are not what they are cracked up to be. And maybe they wouldn’t want the rest of the world to know that.”

The RAAF website confirms that “JORN is not resourced or tasked to conduct surveillance operations 24-hours-a-day 7-days-a-week.” JORN’s peacetime use is focused on searching for objects that the system has been designed to detect, however, that system still needs to be steered and most importantly, turned on. Resources do not always allow that.

Perhaps Australia does have a lot in common with Malaysia and Thailand when it comes to peace-time military operations.

Asked in March whether Australia had picked up any signals consistent with MH370 via JORN an Australian Defense Department spokesman said it “won’t be providing comment” on any aspect of the military surveillance system.

The Australian Government was slightly more co-operative. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop stated on March 19 that Defense would not be withholding any information from authorities regarding MH370, but stopped short of saying whether Australia had infact anything to share, JORN or otherwise.

In reply to a letter on The Herald website dated May 21st, former defence reporter Peter La Franchi wrote, “In September 1999 the Defence Department showed journalists [including La Franchi] thru both the JORN radar station in Laverton and the central control station in Adelaide.”

La Franchi witnessed aircraft movements over East Timor and took note of the axis range to the left of the radar controller screen. It confirmed JORN had a range of “Twelve thousand, three hundred kilometres, with radar returns being evidenced at that distance.” Elsewhere, La Franchi wrote that JORN’s left lobe looks directly to the Northwest Indian Ocean, monitoring any approaches into Australia’s Island Territories. He wrote: “If as Defence has claimed, in statements to a number of media on 17-18 March 2014, that JORN was monitoring the northwest shelf area out to the island territories, then the left lobe was clearly switched on.”

In an attempt to cite those March 17-18 sources, 96 Rosevale Place contacted Peter La Franchi for more information, but to date he has remained – as does Australia’s Defense Department – unavailable for comment.

Whether or not any part of JORN tracked MH370 may never be known. But as Peter La Franchi, a former defence journalist with eight years experience would attest, the notion of most countries military on alert status 24 hours a day is a “TOP GUN” illusion. With the exception of possibly America, no government could sustain such an ongoing cost. For a five minute alert to be possible a fighter aircraft must be prepped and fuelled and the pilot(s) sitting in their flight gear, within 50 metres of the aircraft. That is the obligatory Defence status when imminent attack is detected OR a pre-arranged air defense exercise in being conducted. No monitoring is conducted without a good reason, and the conditions of March 8 2014, a normal moonless night bearing no indicators of a looming catastrophe, were not a good reason.

Mr. John Blaxland of the Australian National University’s strategic and defense studies centre conceded that the JORN system would have needed prior warning in order to program and look for MH370 in advance.

However, he was confident that experts would be scrutinising any data from the JORN system and that the Australian Government was being transparent about their level of co-operation with all parties involved in the search for flight MH370.

“I hope they find something,” said Mr. Blaxland. “I think there would be a remote chance that [JORN] may have picked up the plane.”

To date, however, MH370 was last seen on Malaysian radar well after midnight and on a weekend. For the 239 souls aboard and their families it is way beyond unfortunate to imagine no visual radar monitoring was occurring in real time. In turn, that strongly suggests that both RMAF and RAAF pilots were all safely tucked into bed when MH370 was flying off…somewhere…into aviation history.

…maintain the rage…

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MH370 – Control: More Important Than One Airplane and a Handful of People

I will never forget MH370
On March 9, 2014, I along with so many others wrote the following lead-in for the MH370 story: “Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, 777-200ER registered 9M-MRO, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing was reported missing today. Air Traffic Control’s last reported coordinates for the aircraft were over the South China Sea at 6ᵒ55’15”N 103ᵒ34’43”E – A search for the aircraft began approximately four hours after it disappeared.”

June 8 2014 marks 3 months since that was written, and what is remarkable is that the aforementioned paragraph, approximately twelve weeks or 90 days old, to date is still the most reliable information the general public has on the missing flight. The incident summary still reads “missing” and the site still reads “unknown.” The information authorities are choosing to share with the public conveys the message that after analysis of all available satellite data, it is assumed “beyond reasonable doubt” that the plane was lost and there were no survivors. “Assumed” because, 3 months on not a shred of evidence has turned up to indicate otherwise. Incredible, but apparently true.

If the analysis of satellite “hand-shakes” initiated by the aircraft on an automated basis to an Inmarsat satellite is correct, MH370 flew South from a point North-West of the Strait of Malacca into the Indian Ocean, and somewhere to the West or North-West of Perth, its fuel ran out and it crashed some 2000 miles out to sea. We know the ensuing and unprecedented international search involved dozens of planes and boats scouring search areas that constantly shifted as new information, hypotheses and analysis came in. In spite of that the search was unsuccessful.

Yes “somehow” a Boeing 777-200 (currently worth around 260MM a piece) with a wing span almost as wide as its 64m length, somehow crashed into the deep Indian Ocean and left behind no evidence. Isn’t that just amazing?

After the strongest lead in the search, the early April acoustic pings detected off the coast of Western Australia, turned out to be a dead end, the search area was redefined to a vast 40,000sq mile arc of the Southern Indian Ocean approximately as large as the land mass of Tasmania.

Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer from the University of NSW, specialising in the waters surrounding Australia, has said the underwater search for MH370 will be incredibly difficult — and he is not optimistic of a successful outcome given where the effort currently stands. “It’s virtually impossible to find that plane if there’s not an extra lead,” Dr Van Sebille said.“If there’s no other lead…then I think we are in a pretty dire situation.”

By contrast, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston told a special Four Corners report, “Over the next eight to 12 months, we will find the aircraft; we’ll find its final resting place.”

Meanwhile, in the land down-under, the Abbott government remains “committed to the search” for MH370 and understands the importance of trying to “resolve the mystery for the sake of the families and friends of those who have been lost.”

The opposition has offered bi-partisan support, with Labour Leader Bill Shorten adding that the mission was not being helped by the running commentary on the fate of the flight. “We’ve all been touched by the tragedy and the disappearance of MH370,” he told reporters. “What I think we need to do is have less running commentary and more letting the professionals get on with the job of trying to answer this terrible question.”

What Bill Shorten suggests is colorfully ambivalent and vaguely disturbing. It reminds people like me who have been following the MH370 story since day 1 why, 3 months down the track, so many questions remain unanswered.

The real reason to have “less of a running commentary” on MH370 is to preserve the system, of which Bill Shorten definitely subscribes to.

It has little to do with hindering what is certainly a criminal investigation. The architects of the crime are surely dead and will never be brought to justice. Any partners in said crime not aboard MH370 would have played aiding and abetting type of roles, and whether any case against them would be affected by answering questions and making information public is doubtful.

With-holding information has nothing to do with Malaysian law. There exist international agreements that automatically over-ride local laws, especially in the case of an international aviation incident.

Granted, revealing security arrangements or military secrets are another matter: All military is paranoid. Everything from satellite orbits, to image capture format to telemetry information is when discussing military space hardware classified. Same thing with military radar – no, not the concepts which are readily available in any modern radar textbook, I’m talking about the implementation specifics, deployment specifics and operating characteristics. For better or for worse, all that information is classified. Whether that status is justifiable is a debatable point, and one that won’t be resolved because of the disappearance of MH370.

That said, this paranoia behind “classified information” is the same paranoia that motivates all champions of the system to remain tight-lipped, and to encourage their constituency to do the same. Do your job, live your life and don’t ask questions. The system is in control. In the case of MH370, the 239 souls aboard and related family, clearly the system failed them. The secrecy surrounding the incident has everything to do with members of various establishments protecting their interests and maintaining the status quo. Regardless of the degree of incompetence and negligence on the part of Malaysia or the airline, withholding evidence sends a clear message: “We are in charge. You are underlings.” It is a provocation; go away and bury your head in the sand.

From a distance, gazing upon the lofty perspective of the system, it is plain to see that the issue of maintaining the appearance of control is of far greater importance than the loss of one airplane and a handful of people.

Three months on, it is abundantly clear now that a person or persons deliberately flew MH370 somewhere it was not supposed to go. As each day passes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the authorities of the system to pretend they don’t know exactly who those persons were.

…maintain the rage….

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KRM Update – Nauru Not So Bad After All…

12_Carlos_CazalisAfter more than four years of describing his time at Nauru Detention Centre as an “everlasting fire,” and “a place of torment for the damned,” Burmese and Sri Lankan refugees finally admitted yesterday that their time on the tiny Micronesian island was, in fact, “all right.”
“In spite of all the hunger strikes and all the letters to Amnesty,” Burmese Permanent Protection Visa holder Aung San said, “Nauru was not so bad. Mostly it was quite pleasant. Most refugees just get a little emotional, that’s all.”

Following Aung San’s announcement, asylum seeking refugees awaiting processing in detention centres across Australia acknowledged the positives of their particular predicament.

“The riots in February are the best part so far,” said Amila Debnath, 27, who has been on Manus Island for 11 months. “But it’s all good. A lot of time you look the guard in the eye and instead of killing each other, you swap food recipes and tell funny stories. We show them our secret dens, and they invite us over to their food hall to share some imported Australian beer and to smoke cigarettes.”

Debnath said he also started smoking marijuana on Manus, a habit he still enjoys to this day.

“There is nothing in the world quite like it,” he said. “Not even a visa.”

Musayev Marma is a Sri Lankan refugee who has been at Christmas Island Immigration Reception and Processing Centre for twenty months said, “I’m so glad the facilities here are nothing like they portray in movies like Afghan Stories or In This World. That would be really bad. Coming To America and a little bit of Peter Seller’s The Party is more true to our experience.”

Added Marma: “You see, everybody talks about the overcrowding and the rape allegations. But no one ever talks about the Freddo Frogs and games of Twister.”

Acting as spokesperson for his group, Aung San also admitted that, contrary to what The Refugee Council of Australia’s claim, the asylum seeker circumstances are not something beyond the average Australian’s comprehension.

“For quite a time now we are telling people, if you are not a refugee then you would not understand us,” San said. “But this is simply not true. Anyone could easily look at the television and get a very good idea of what it is like for us. There are many many shows with many detailed descriptions and bright coloured pictures. You certainly don’t need to actually go to Nauru to get a feel for it.”

Padma Ambu, an asylum seeker from Nepal formally detained in the now closed Baxter Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, remembers many good times.

“A lot of times, in between fighting, we would have the barbeque of great seafood and just laze around and drink for many hours,” Padma said. “Then we’d usually flirt with the Baxter guards and take them to our room and have sex with them. And they would often be our very good friends.”

Padma is now raising two beautiful children in Port Augusta South Australia thanks to her exciting refugee sexual adventures.

Ali Rasulov, who while waiting for his asylum claim to be heard had his eye gouged out by a guard during a riot at the now defunct Port Hedland Detention Centre, said that although he has had numerous recurring nightmares over the past 10 years, they have been largely unrelated to his stint as a refugee.

“There’s a really bad one where I’m back in the Port Hedland, and I’m swimming in the Olympic pool, but I realise I’m not wearing any trunks because I forgot to bring my gym bag,” Rasulov said. “My goodness, it seemed so real, it was terrifying.”

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