Thursday, March 20, 2014

Could vital info be Down Under?

SEPANG: A CRUCIAL piece of the puzzle in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 mystery could lie somewhere in the barren Australian heartland.
As recovery efforts for MH370 continue into the 12th day, the one element that could swing the odds in favour of search-and-rescue (SAR) teams -- a super-secret installation just outside Alice Springs -- remains cloaked in secrecy.
Aviation Week news portal has accused Canberra of being unwilling to disclose whe-ther its Jindalee Over-The-Horizon Radar (OTHR) system had tracked the flight.
While it said the super radar had an official range of 3,000km, the Royal Australian Air Force system is reportedly able to reach further into the South China Sea.
It claimed that the facility could even pick out the type of aircraft taking off from Changi International Airport in Singapore.
Bloomberg, in a recent report, had asked whether Australia had picked up any signals consistent with MH370 on its Jindalee Operational Radar Network.
An Australian Defence Department spokesman said it "won't be providing comment" on the military surveillance system.
Conventional radars are limited by range and the earth's curvature. The OTHR solves this problem by shooting a radio frequency up into the atmosphere. The radio frequency bounces off the ionosphere and returns to earth, where it interprets the radar picture.
Another installation that may provide a clearer picture of where MH370 is would be Australia's Pine Gap satellite tracking facility, 18km southwest of Alice Springs.
News.com.au said Pine Gap was operated by Australia and the United States. Officially, the facility is called the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap and is partly run by the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency.
It added that Pine Gap's primary function was to control US spy satellites, as they passed over one-third of the globe.
It is believed that these include China, parts of Russia and the Middle East oil fields.
The facility is dotted with between 14 and 18 radomes protecting sensitive antennae. These act as a ground control and processing station for satellites in geosynchronous orbit engaged in signals intelligence.
Among the data processed are telemetry from advanced weapons development for arms control verification, signals from anti-missile and anti-aircraft radars, and transmissions for communications satellites.
However, it is believed that of particular interest in the search for MH370 is Pine Gap's ability to track microwave emissions, such as long-distance calls.
Kuala Lumpur has sent diplomatic notes to 11 countries that lie within the northern and southern corridors, where MH370 is believed to be.
Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had, for two straight days since the notes were sent out, said the international investigating team was banking on crucial radar and satellite readings from key countries.
Yesterday, he was specific in saying Malaysia would appreciate it if the US could provide investigators with data from its facilities in Australia.
Although he did not mention the two facilities by name, the New Straits Times believes that he was alluding to the Pine Gap and Jindalee facilities.
Hishammuddin, who is also defence minister, said in the same breath that Malaysia was aware that each country's radar and satellite data were privileged information, but was hopeful that nations would come forth.
He reiterated yesterday that Malaysia had put aside its national security by disclosing raw military data, which had allowed SAR forces to narrow down the search area to the northern and southern air corridors. The search area now covers 2.24 million sq nautical miles.
The Department of Civil Aviation told the NST that at the material time of MH370's disappearance, commercial radars of countries that the aircraft could have passed over revealed that "there were no stragglers".
It would not comment on the theory that the aircraft, which was carrying 239 people, could have shadowed another Boeing 777 jetliner to escape radar detection. Additional reporting by Tasnim Lokman and Aliza Shah

Read more: Could vital info be Down Under? - General - New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/nation/general/could-vital-info-be-down-under-1.520539?cache=03d163d03edding-pred-1.1176%2F%3Fpfpentwage63dp%3A%2Fhe3d03dn63frea-rti3d19.3d163d03edding-pred-1.1176%2F%3Fpfpentwage63dp%3A%2Fhe3d03dn63frea-rti3d19.111w5ii%2Fed-1.117%2F7.185066%2F7.187206%3Fkey%3Dkuala+lumpur#ixzz2wSPm9n2E

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