Tuesday 11 March 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Singapore sends more planes, ships to help in search efforts

By Lee Hui Chieh, The Straits Times, 10 Mar 2014

SINGAPORE has sent more military planes and ships to help in a multi-country search for the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane that went missing on 8 March 2014.

Two military transport planes, a naval helicopter, two warships and a submarine support and rescue vessel were dispatched, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement yesterday.

These exclude the first military transport plane deployed on Saturday, which has since returned, the ministry added. Two other C-130 planes have taken its place.

Singapore's efforts are part of a growing international effort to find the missing jetliner, which is widely presumed to have crashed in the waters between north-eastern Malaysia and southern Vietnam.

Malaysia has taken the lead in search efforts by ordering 15 air force planes, six navy ships and three coast guard vessels to search for the missing plane.

Seven other countries - China, the United States, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia and Indonesia - have since deployed ships and aircraft to the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait to aid in search operations.

Vietnamese and Malaysian search teams have discovered large oil slicks in the waters near the plane's last known location. But no one has found conclusive evidence or signs of the wreckage.

Meanwhile, reports said experts from the US National Transportation Safety Board were on their way to Malaysia to be in place should any wreckage of the Boeing 777-200 be located.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation was also dispatching personnel to Malaysia, though the authorities declined to give details.

Several Singapore leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, called their Malaysian counterparts on Saturday to offer their sympathies as well as assistance in the search operation.

In a post on its Facebook page, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) said its missile corvette, frigate and naval helicopter joined in the search for MAS Flight MH370 early yesterday morning.

The Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter - which can deploy sonar - is on board the RSS Steadfast. This is one of the navy's Formidable class of frigates - its most advanced warships that are designed for stealth, speed and manoeuvrability.

The RSS Vigour belongs to its Victory class of missile corvettes - fast attack vessels with search capabilities that form what the navy calls "the backbone of the RSN's strike capability".

The RSN added that its submarine support and rescue vessel, the MV Swift Rescue, which had been preparing for the operation through the night, sailed later yesterday. It is equipped to search underwater, and has divers on board.

Limits of information sharing
The Straits Times, 19 Mar 2014

Regional tensions make it less likely for countries helping in the search for the missing MH370 aircraft to share sensitive radar data. Doing so might reveal their technical abilities or gaps, says this analysis from strategic security intelligence service Soufan Group.

THE still-unfolding tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has attracted so much attention not only because of the immense human cost - with 239 families grieving, it's indeed beyond cost - but because the incident reveals the frustrating boundaries of information sharing between countries and the humbling limits of technical surveillance coverage over vast regions of the planet.

In an age of ubiquitous communications and tracking, a wide-body 777 jet has disappeared. It has been 11 days of worldwide attention since the plane disappeared on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, and officials not only don't know why it happened, but they also don't even know what happened or where it happened.

No distress calls were made. No alerting technical communications were received - as was the case with the 2009 Air France tragedy, the last commercial airliner to "disappear".

No wreckage has been spotted (the debris field - a term now in the common lexicon - from the Air France flight was found five days after it went down over the Atlantic Ocean). Only tertiary satellite pings and secondary radar returns have provided compelling indications that the disappearance was intentional. This is unprecedented.

Also unprecedented are the compelling pressures and need for the 26 countries involved in the search to share what they assess to be sensitive satellite or radar information in the effort to locate the plane.

Such technical details are usually considered among a country's crown jewels of secrets. Nations expend a great deal of effort in both preventing outsiders from learning their own capabilities as well as attempting to learn the capabilities of everyone else.

Malaysia's request for more than 20 countries to provide technical information illustrates just how big the search area is, and how badly the information is needed in the absence of traditional aviation clues.

Two factors make this request for sharing even more difficult.

First, the type of data requested is not run-of-the-mill active tracking of an aircraft along a known flight information region (FIR) or air traffic control (ATC) route. The capabilities of ATC radars and satellites that are tasked to track such flights are reasonably well known. What is not well known, and therefore sensitive, is the capabilities of radars and satellites to collect on things they are not focused on.

This possible/assumed ambient collection of everything electronic in a defined area will likely provide clues to both the fate and location of MH370, but sharing it is not as straightforward as the public assumes.

The term "Five Eyes" refers to the signals intelligence-sharing agreement between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These five countries share, with few exceptions, most of their signals intelligence, which include satellite/radar imagery and data.

There is no "Twenty-Six Eyes" agreement - or precedent - in place for countries such as China, France, Malaysia, Vietnam, Pakistan and others to share information of a nature that is specific enough to actually help, in terms of ruling out locations/flight paths or confirming them.

Again, the ATC capabilities (the dedicated tracking of civilian air traffic) are not the issue but rather the unknown capabilities of military radars and satellites to track something they are not looking for. This is "No Eyes" territory.

Second, the countries in the region around Malaysia are not on the best of terms, to put it mildly.

Tensions between China and Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea and even Japan are at uncomfortably high levels.

Issues such as territorial boundaries, fishing and mineral rights, naval capabilities and, as of late, "air defence information zones" have led to low-level stand-offs and near-skirmishes that threaten regional stability.

It is primarily from these nervous neighbours that Malaysia has requested sensitive technical details. Adding further significant challenges, prospective scenarios now involve the FIRs of India and Pakistan. Information exchange of this sort of data would be genuinely unprecedented.

The heightened tensions might lead these countries to overprotect information that normally would not be that sensitive, for fear of revealing weaknesses or strengths. The result could be vague responses that don't provide the granularity or unexpected details needed to resolve the issue.

Apart from the human tragedy, officials need to quickly determine what happened in order to assess if there are similar risks to other aircraft, commercial and otherwise.

The need for information is not just to solve the question of what happened to MH370 and its victims, but also to prevent a similar disaster from happening to another flight. The notion of "No Eyes" won't help investigators in their task.

Plane search hampered by 'Ultra Syndrome'
By Sam Bateman, Published The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2014

ULTRA was the Allies' name for highly classified intelligence information obtained during World War II by breaking encrypted enemy radio communications. "It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war," Winston Churchill was reported to have told King George VI.

Much German radio traffic was encrypted on the Enigma machine, many codes of which the British could decipher.

The downside was that military commanders sometimes could not act on Ultra intelligence because it might give away to the Germans that the Allies had access to Enigma traffic.

For example, during the Battle of Crete in 1941, the Allied commander on the island, New Zealand's General Bernard Freyberg, did not move troops away from defending coastal areas despite Ultra intercepts indicating that a seaborne attack was improbable and an airborne invasion most likely. Gen Freyberg alone had Ultra access, but he did not act on it lest it revealed to the Germans that he knew their intentions. This ultimately led to the fall of Crete.

Much in accounts of the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 suggests that what might be called the "Ultra Syndrome" has been a factor. Quite simply, countries with access to sensitive surveillance information helpful to the search have been reluctant to reveal that data because it might give away their capabilities. Thailand has already admitted it had surveillance information that it did not share, at least initially, with Malaysia.

The Ultra Syndrome may also have been at work closer to home. While the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) has not confirmed the origins of its information about debris in the southern Indian Ocean, it seems likely that a United States military satellite was the source. An Amsa spokesman has revealed that the satellite photos were taken several days earlier.

This raises the question: How long was that information available? And why was the search suddenly focused on an area of the southern Indian Ocean far from previous search areas? It may be argued that this was the limit of the aircraft's fuel endurance along the southern corridor of its possible flight, but it was more likely in response to some, as-yet-unconfirmed, source of intelligence.

US surveillance data is highly classified and passed to only a very limited number of countries, including Australia. Any early release of such data would say a lot about US surveillance capabilities.

As Fairfax journalist Peter Hartcher has observed: "Australian officialdom is hyper-protective of US intelligence and its sources - even more protective than the Americans themselves… It is a symptom of the Australian defence establishment's mentality as an anxious junior ally, afraid of giving its senior partner any reason to curtail the flow of intelligence."

Militaries and intelligence agencies have a marked tendency to overclassify information and be protective of their sources.

Navies talk a lot about maritime cooperation and the importance of information-sharing, but there are major limitations to what they are prepared to do and share together. Some countries and navies have the reputation of being "vacuum cleaners" - they suck in information, but give nothing out.

The vexed issue for policymakers is deciding when national security concerns should give way to saving human lives. When the dust settles on the MH370 saga, a positive outcome may well be that countries become less sensitive to sharing surveillance information important to effective search-and-rescue missions.

The two international agencies concerned, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation, should at least address the issue.

The writer is Professorial Fellow with the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong.

This article first appeared in The Conversation (http://theconversation.com), a website which carries analysis by academics and researchers in Australia and Britain.

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