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Flight MH370: lost jet exposes gaps in Malaysia's defences

Flight MH370: lost jet exposes gaps in Malaysia's defences

Allies and neighbours concerned after prime minister discloses flight MH370 crossed its territory without being picked up by military radar

» Media | Monday, March 17, 2014 • Telegraph
Malaysia has rejected questions over its air defence systems following the seizure and disappearance of flight MH370 and claimed the lessons learned from the crisis could “change aviation history”.
The disclosure by Prime Minister Najib Razak that the Malaysia Airlines plane was seized shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, turned around over the South China Sea and flew back over Peninsular Malaysia without alerting the country’s defence forces has caused alarm among neighbours and allies.
After the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States, air defences across the world were tightened and new procedures adopted to speed the detection of rogue aircraft and intercept them before they could be used as weapons of terrorism.
But the apparent failure of Malaysia, which has a defence agreement with Britain, to notice that the plane had changed direction, fallen off the radar and then flown towards and through its air space has identified serious loopholes in its air defences.
Most countries with advanced air forces would detect an incoming hostile aircraft 200 miles from shore and scramble fighter jets to challenge it.
There has been strong criticism of the failure in China, India and in private by Western diplomats and defence analysts.
A Western security source said while the current focus is on helping Malaysia locate the missing plane, “there are a lot of questions – how did it get to the point where it came back and went wherever? You would have thought [planes] would have been scrambled and the Malaysians would have acted.”
Sugata Pramanik, an Indian air traffic controllers’ leader, said a plane can “can easily become invisible to civilian radar by switching off the transponder ... But it cannot avoid defence systems.”
One senior Indian Navy commander, Rear Admiral Sudhir Pillai, however said his country’s military radars were occasionally “switched off as we operate on an 'as required’ basis”.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force is widely respected and has a fleet of Sukhoi S30 and F16 fighter jets and does regular training exercises with their British, Australian, New Zealand and Singapore counterparts.
Malaysia’s Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein however dismissed the concerns and said the disaster was an “unprecedented case” with lessons for all.
“It’s not right to say there is a breach in the standard procedures ... what we’re going through here is being monitored throughout the world and may change aviation history,” he said.
His comments were supported by Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s Director General of Civil Aviation, who said “many will have lessons to learn from this. I’ve been in aviation for 35 years and I’ve never seen this kind of incident before”.
Neither elaborated on the loopholes exposed beyond Malaysia by the seizure of MH370 and stressed that Kuala Lumpur would not focus on the issue until it had found the aircraft and its passengers on crew.
Anifah Aman, Malaysia’s foreign minister, told The Telegraph the world was “missing the point” by focusing on security implications and that he still hoped for a 'miracle’ in finding the passengers and crew alive.
“The focus must be on finding the plane. I don’t want to support any of the theories at this juncture. This involves a lot of lives. My worry is where is the plane and what little chance that people are safe so that they can come back ... we believe in miracles and like to think they’re safe and can return to their families,” he said.
The prime minister confirmed on Saturday that the Boeing 777 had been flown from close to Vietnamese air space over the South China Sea, back across the Malaysian peninsula to the Strait of Malacca, close to Penang, and then took two possible navigational corridors.
Search operations, now including 25 countries, are now focused on a northern corridor from the Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan border to northern Thailand and a southern sector from Indonesia to the vast southern Indian Ocean.
The investigation into what happened to the plane is now based on four theories – all of which follow from Mr Najib’s acceptance on Saturday that the plane had been deliberately seized or hijacked.
Police Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar said those who had taken the plane were either hijackers, saboteurs, someone with a personal vendetta or a psychological problem.
His investigation had been launched under a Malaysian law which covers terrorism offences, he said.
Until now the government has been reluctant to refer to the seizure as a hijacking or act of terrorism because they have yet to find any evidence on the motive of whoever seized the plane on Saturday March 8th.
The minister and the police chief’s comments however marked a freer use of the terms following the prime minister’s confirmation that the plane had been deliberately taken and re-routed.
Malaysia has not suffered terrorism on the scale of neighbours Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, although several Malaysian nationals are known to have received training from al-Qaeda.

Tags: Flight MH370,
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