How in our modern world can a commercial airliner just disappear into thin air? I believe the answer is that it did not just disappear. There are people, most likely in the US and Australia, who know a lot more about the flight of MH370 than they have revealed so far. This is what has driven the friends and families of the passengers into visible rage. Added to their grief and loss has been the feeling that they have not been told the full story. The facts point to one of two conclusions: Either Australia's Jindalee radar network picked up the fight of MH370 and Australia and the US refuse to tell us what they know. or that system did not pick up even the slightest hint of the existence or movements of flight MH370, thereby showing that the Jindalee system is damn near useless.
THE MALAYSIAN GOVERNMENT BELIEVED INFORMATION WAS BEING HIDDEN
On 19 March the Sydney Morning Herald carried a story by Lindsay Murdoch in which he claimed:
“Malaysia believes data from US spy satellites monitored in Australia could help find missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 but the information is being withheld. (…) Authorities in Kuala Lumpur believe that finding the plane now depends on the willingness of a number of countries to share potentially sensitive radar and satellite data.”
Malaysia was getting a lot of criticism because the “mystery” of the disappearing airliner went on day after day and they could provide no answers to the relatives or the passengers or the press. As a last resort, Malaysia’s Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein spoke by phone to the US Secretary of Defence requesting data from radar and satellite systems. The next day Australia made its announcement that they had discovered what was probably wreckage from the MH370 in the Indian Ocean west of Perth.
THE OFFICIAL STORY OF THE MOVEMENTS OF FLIGHT MH370
The bare bones of the official story is this: Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 seemed to “disappear” after it made its last voice contact with air traffic control at 1:19 am on the 8th of March 2014. It was detected by Malaysian military radar at 2:15 am, less than two hours after takeoff. At this point it was 320km northwest of Penang. This was reported at the time but then later denied for a few days by the Malaysian government.
The movement of MH370 after that time has been calculated by a series of “handshakes” with the Inmarsat-3 F1 satellite. From these signals it has been concluded that the plane flew for several more hours. The last automated hourly “handshake” came at 8:11 am and there is some evidence of a partial “handshake” 18 minutes later. While these signals did not themselves contain data about its location, a careful analysis of these handshakes suggests that its last known location was about 1600km west of Perth. Then, twelve days later, on the 20th of March Australia announced that two objects identified from satellite images were found 2,500km off the coast of Perth could be wreckage from MH370. However nothing was ever recovered from this location.
IS THIS THE WHOLE STORY?
It is hard to believe this the whole story. I suspect that officials in Australia and the US knew almost immediately where the plane had gone and where it crashed. As I will explain below, most if not all of its journey was probably captured by Australia’s Jindalee radar network which covers the areas to the north and west of the Australian coast. However this is a top secret military radar system, and making public the details known of its path would indicate to the “enemies” of Australia and the US exactly what it can detect. This system could have given a reasonably accurate idea of its flight path and where it crashed.
HOW AND WHERE DOES JINDALEE WORK?
The Jindalee network is a system of over-the-horizon-radar which bounces high frequency radio waves off the ionosphere. When these waves hit a metal object of sufficient size some of them are reflected back and computer systems process these signals and detect objects far from the Australian coast. However, this system is different from ordinary radar in that the high frequency waves do not sweep over an area, but rather focus on one area at a time. In the diagram below (Figure 1) the area examined is called the radar footprint. There are three systems in this network, one located at Longreach Qld., one in Alice Springs NT., and one in Laverton, WA. “Radar data from these sensors is conveyed to the JORN Coordination Centre within the Air Force’s No 1 Radar Surveillance Unit (1RSU) at RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia. 1RSU is tasked by higher headquarters to operate the JORN capability on a daily basis.”
Officially this system is said to observe air and sea activity north and west of Australia to a distance of 3000km. However sources outside the military believe it could work up to 4000km from the Australian coastline, even as far away as Singapore. While the military is understandably reluctant to reveal the effective range of the Jindalee system, it is quite likely that MH370 flew through areas which can be covered by the network. Figure 2, taken from the JORN Fact Sheet put out by the Australian Air Force gives us some idea of how the Jindalee system might have detected MH370.
DID THE JINDALEE RADAR DETECT THE PATH OF FLIGHT MH370?
In spite of what is explained above, it is also possible that the Jindalee system did not detect the flight of MH370. First there are a number of factors which are relevant to its performance, such as the state of the ionosphere, weather conditions and solar disturbances. However the most important reason why it might not have been detected is that it was not working at the time or it was not looking in the right place. Remember that it does not “sweep” like ordinary radar, and, quoting from the JORN Fact Sheet:
“JORN does not operate on a 24 hour basis except during military contingencies. Defence’s
peacetime use of JORN focuses on those objects that the system has been designed to detect,
thus ensuring efficient use of resources.”
Further, John Blaxland of ANU’s strategic and defence studies centre said “the JORN system would probably have to have been programmed to look for MH370 in advance.”
So why do I think that the Jindalee system did actually detect flight MH 370? There are two reasons why I think it did. The first reason is that Malaysian government requested information from Australia and the US. They clearly thought that US and Australia knew more than what they had revealed so far. The second reason is this: Why have such a system and then not use it to see what you can find? The cost of the system has been estimated to be about A$ 1.8 billion. How do you think the Minister of Defence would react if he was told that the system was not turned on at the time so there is no record of the flight? As stated in the Fact Sheet, the public position is that the system does not operate 24/7. From a military point of view this is hard to believe. “Sorry sir, but we only turn it on when we think there might be something to look at.” But what of surprises? What of objects you do not expect? For that kind of money it seems to be absurd not to have it in constant operation and capable of detecting any metal object above a minimal size in the air or on the sea.
ONE LAST WORD
I am well aware that this discussion is speculation. Perhaps Australia and the US knew the details of the flight of MH370 in some other way than the Jindalee network. Still, as I said above, if the Jindalee system did not detect the flight of such a large aircraft which spent over 6 hours in the airspace covered by the system then a few heads should roll.
However if I am correct in thinking that it was picked up by the Jindalee system, what we have seen under the cover of a “disappearing” airliner is the triumph of the intelligence/defence bureaucrats over a more human oriented concern for the relatives of the passengers and crew. What harm could come to Australia’s national security, or the national security of the US, by admitting that the Jindalee system could detect the MH370? I suspect that any military attaché in Canberra could work out that it had been detected, so what “secret” is being hidden from our “enemies”? But then the same people who bring us pointless war after pointless war are hardly going to care much for the feelings of a few hundred more innocent civilians. As we have heard: “Shit happens.”