Tag Archives: RMAF

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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