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Friday, March 28, 2014

Ground the RMAF over MH370 fiasco

The RMAF has failed everyone on board MH370 and let down a whole nation.
COMMENT
tudm mh370Seven years ago, two RMAF jet engines disappeared and ended up in South America. That loss was never fully explained. The Defence Minister in 2007/8 was Najib Tun Razak.
Today, a passenger jet with 239 people on board has also disappeared. The circumstances of each are different but the way in which we handled the situation, and the manner in which our leaders dismissed our concerns, is worrying. It is business as usual after the event.
The price of irresponsibility has been high as we have seen in MH370. Lessons must be learned but Malaysian leaders must stop the art of saving face and start facing up to their responsibilities for once. Undoubtedly, several heads must roll.
Last year when the Sulu army invaded Lahad Datu, the response from the erstwhile Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was pitiful, “it is only a rag tag bunch of old men having a picnic”.
He ignored the fears of the public. They questioned the role of intelligence gathering and the poor air and sea defences which had failed to note the invasion by armed and uniformed Sulu militants.
The questions I posed last week remain unanswered: “Where was the RMAF when Flight MH370 traversed Malaysian air space in the early hours of Saturday March 8, 2014?” and, “How did the radar operator know from the radar blip that the plane was non-hostile?”
Military radar signals showed that after MH370 disappeared from civilian radar the plane climbed sharply to 45,000ft, higher than the approved ceiling for the Boeing 777, before turning sharply to the west and descending to 23,000 ft.
The plane then climbed again this time heading north-west towards the Indian Ocean.
What did the radar operator and the air force do with this information? The “non-hostile” plane acted strangely with funny twists and turns in the air. These must have been the first signs that MH370 was in trouble.
A few days ago the deputy defence minister Abdul Rahim Bakri made a rash statement and said that the air force assumed that Flight MH370 had been ordered to turn-back by the civilian air traffic controllers.
The following day when he was attacked for making this statement Abdul Rahim backtracked. He said that HE had made this assumption. This U-turn is a typical tactic of the government of Malaysia.
Now Malaysians will not learn whether the RMAF really made this assumption or Abdul was forced to retract his statement and become a fall-guy for the RMAF which is being widely criticised for its apparent blunders.
Common sense mistake No 1: Never assume. The popular urban definition of assume is “Don’t make an ass out of u and me.”
The air force radar operators failed to double check with the air controllers in Subang. Is it beyond their intellect and curiosity to make a quick phone call?
Local of communication
Perhaps, they were not at their radar screens. Remember the MACC staff who were implicated in Teoh Beng Hock’s death? Their work computer hard drives showed that they were surfing pornography and shopping sites, instead of working.
The consequence of making assumptions has been the loss of 239 lives. Precious time was wasted. If only fighter jets had been sent to intercept the unidentified aircraft.
This is what Abdul Rahim said in parliament: “The turnback was detected in our radar, only we thought the turnback was done by MAS, an aircraft that was not hostile or a friendly aircraft, so we thought maybe it’s an order from control tower.”
“….only we thought…..!” In any civilised country, the public outcry would have demanded the mass resignations of the defence minister, his deputy, the chief of the armed forces, the RMAF chief, and the prime minister.
If this had been a wartime situation, Abdul Rahim and all the squadrons of air force planes could have been obliterated.
Common sense mistake No 2: Not keeping abreast of news and not reading enough.
Are the radar operators unaware that the two passenger jets which were deliberately flown into the New York Twin Towers were the weapons of death and destruction?
In a hypothetical scenario what if a passenger jet had traversed Malaysian air space and hurtled into the Petronas Twin Towers, or other sensitive locations?
Common sense mistake No 3: Never assume that the rakyat are as clueless as the defence chiefs.
Abdul Rahim Bakri failed to mention the lack of communication between civilian and military aviation authorities. Was he hoping we would not remind him?
On March 12, military radar detected an aircraft some 200 miles northwest of Penang in the Straits of Malacca. At 2.15am on the same day it went missing. We are told that there was no way to determine if the blip was MH370.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) chief Rodzali Daud claimed that Malaysia was working with experts to confirm that blip was the missing plane. The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman explained that the primary radar used by the military could only show the presence of an aircraft and nothing else.
The chief of the armed forces Zulkifeli Mohd Zin claimed that the unidentified aircraft was first noticed in the spot where MH370 had disappeared. He claimed he ordered ships to be despatched from Lumut that night towards the suspected location of the aircraft. He then claimed that a C-130 plane was sent to scout the area the following morning.
Air-space is unprotected?
If none of the military brass were aware what the blip meant that night why was Zulkifeli confident enough to despatch ships to that particular location?
Was he simply making a remark after the event to pretend he had done something useful? What made him think he was looking at a potential crash scene that night? What else is the military hiding from us?
Why did they make a mistake with the time? MH370 was in trouble an hour into the journey.
Is the radar viewed in real time or was the radar operator looking at recorded radar information? If it is not in real time, then are our skies open to invasion?
We know that security checks and passport controls are lax. No wonder Najib Tun Razak wants to guarantee that his spouse, the self-styled First Lady of Malaysia, travels safely on private jets when flying overseas.
More importantly, it appears that our air-space is unprotected. Perhaps, it is time we grounded the air force or rename it the Royal Myopic Air Farce.
The RMAF wasted those first few hours. We could have at least known where to look for MH370. The RMAF has failed everyone on board MH370 and let down a whole nation.
Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.

1 comment:

  1. In a country where the air force planes were salvaged from the junk yards in Nevada Desert, and some of their engines went missing until located in South America ; where the billion-dollar submarine was unable to submerge, demanding them to be grounded is uncalled for. It is really hurting and demeaning to say the least.

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