This posting is made with the above in mind. A lot has been said about the disappearance of the MH370. Most of what has been said are purely speculations, with some that might have qualified to be nominated for best screenplay at the Academy Awards. I, too, have some idea of what might have happened but I put them aside so I could listen to the daily press conference with an open mind. I will also attempt to maintain some form of ethics because I also have the feelings of the family of the passengers and crew in mind when I write this.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) has come under intense attack by both foreign and local media alike. The Air Defence system has also come under intensive fire by members of the opposition party for its failure to detect the MH370 upon deviating from its intended path and the subsequent failure to scramble our fighters. Some even say our air defence personnel were asleep on the job, and that at least one air defence radar was not working.
It is easy for keyboard warriors to criticise the RMAF without knowing what or how our air defence systems work. Perhaps when they think of an air defence system, they had the following in mind:
Why I write this is to give a general understanding of how our air defence system works, and what really happened that night. I have been generally quiet on this matter as at the time of writing, I am grieving the passing of my younger brother exactly 100 days today. But duty calls, I guess.
I left the RMAF almost 20 years ago. A handful of my squad-mates are still serving senior officers. Back in September 2012, a number of bloggers (including I) and some senior editors of the Malaysian media (including those that are opposition-leaning) were invited to a media open day organised by the then Minister of Defence. Everything was displayed to us, including some of the very sensitive information, so that we could acquire enough background and understand how the RMAF works. Out of the 80 or so people who were there that day, I guess I am the only one to come to the defence of the RMAF.
First of all, this is how a typical air defence centre looks like from the inside:
It is no longer the one-man show you see in the movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” There are several air defence centres around Malaysia covering both the Peninsula, Sabah, Sarawak and FAR beyond. I have a photo of how far our air defence radars reach, but although I was allowed to take photos of the main display, I opt not to put it up here. Suffice to say, what we have is enough to tell us way ahead if a hostile aircraft is approaching our airspace. When we were at the air defence centre, we were shown a live interception of two bogeys by two of our MiG-29N interceptors.
If I may say, what we all saw on the screen was what would have been seen by all the operators of the other RMAF Air Defence Centres around the nation that if one failed, it would not jeopardise what the others could see.
During this display, not one journo nor blogger could come up with a sane question related to what was shown to them. In the end, I and a few of my blogger friends had to ask the questions to get the RMAF clarify on issues that the media and bloggers have been attacking them on. Even the Deputy Chief of Air Force, Lieutenant General Dato Seri Haji Roslan bin Saad thanked me for my participation and for helping the RMAF clarify some issues.
Let us go back to that wee hours on Saturday, 8th March 2014. MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 0041 hours (Local Time). At 0107 hours, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) transmitted that all was well with the aircraft.
The aircraft soon after arrived at waypoint IGARI, about 78 nautical miles from Redang island, bearing 056 degrees) which is a point in the South China Sea between the Malaysian border with Vietnam. At this point, Lumpur Flight Information Region (FIR) would hand over the control aircraft to Vietnam. At 0119 hours, a person believed to be the co-pilot transmitted the final vox transmission, “Alright, good night.” At 0122 hours, the aircraft disappeared from secondary radar coverage without any distress call suggesting its transponder had been switched off by someone on the flight deck. However, it was only at 0240 hours that Malaysia Airlines was notified.
The RMAF Air Defence radars saw the MH370 tracked West Southwest to waypoint VAMPI (68 nautical miles East Northeast of Lhokseumawe, Indonesia), then Northeast to waypoint GIVAL (69 nautical miles South Southwest of Phuket International Airport) before tracking Northwest towards waypoint IGREX (100 nautical miles East Southeast of Car Nicobar airport on India’s Nicobar Islands), the last known position according to the primary radar. Where MH370 went to after this point is unknown at this point, but I believe the Indian Air Force’s Andaman and Nicobar Command’s primary radar there would have caught the MH370 in its scope.
So, if the MH370 was seen to deviate from its intended course, why didn’t the RMAF scramble its fighters to intercept the airliner?
Every bogey (unknown aircraft) would be tagged by an Air Defence Officer and this data will be processed to ascertain whether it was a threat to air defence or otherwise. In the case of the MH370, it was not regarded as hostile. Is this a weakness on the part of the RMAF? Mind you three jetliners took down the World Trade Centre towers as well as the Pentagon in the sophisticatedly-defended United States of America.
Should our fighters have been scrambled? If you remember, the MH370 was no longer in our airspace. When the MH370 tracked West Southwest from IGARI to VAMPI, she did not cross Malaysian airspace. She flew over Thai airspace and into Indonesian airspace, then tracked up to GIVAL near Phuket and subsequently to IGREX near India’s Nicobar Islands (see below).
When she tracked from IGARI to IGREX she entered an area with two Royal Thai Air Force fighter bases namely the RTAF 7th Wing in Surat Thani and the 56th Wing in Hat Yai. They, too, were not scrambled. Nor were the fighters of the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) scrambled from Lhokseumawe or Banda Aceh in Aceh, or Suwondo in Medan. If you think the Indonesians are as incapable as the RMAF, they forced a US military transport down without scrambling their fighters at their base in Banda Aceh on 20th May 2013 for entering Indonesian airspace without proper clearance.
The Chief of Air Force, General Tan Sri Dato Seri Rodzali bin Daud have explained that the RMAF did not see the need to scramble its fighters as the blip on the primary radar was deemed not hostile, and that there was nothing wrong with the air defence system. I just find this attack on the RMAF as another cheap publicity shot by a bunch of losers who do not know how things work and why, and would just take pot shots and see what gets hit.
I know the RMAF I see now is a far advanced RMAF than the one I left almost 20 years ago, and I have faith in the officers, men and women in their capability to defend this nation. I cannot say the same for the group of losers bent on hitting out at any institution of His Majesty Yang DiPertuan Agong.
To these losers, please just STFU!