BY THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER
March 17, 2014
Even before all question on the lost Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 has been answered, a debate has already started on the state of readiness of the Malaysian air force and the privatisation of military and civilian radar services.
DAP Raub MP Datuk Mohd Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz today questioned the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) for not checking an aircraft that flew mysteriously across the Malay peninsula the morning that the MAS Boeing 777-200ER disappeared.
The mysterious flight has now been identified as the Beijing-bound flight MH370, which was carrying 239 on board when it vanished from radar screens at 1.30am on March 8. It remains missing.
“At the time that whatever radar captured an intrusion into our space by an unidentified plane, why did TUDM not do anything. Where were our 18 Sukhois, our MIG and all that,” he asked in his popular blog today, referring to the air force by its Bahasa acronym.
The former Umno politician pointed out the Indian military said the response to an unidentified plane in the country’s airspace would be an immediate scramble of its fighter jets to intercept.
“That is how we confirm whether the object is hostile or not – not by waiting for people in the flying object to say – hello general, we are evil people with evil intentions.
“Now in Malaysia’s case, the intrusion was taken lightly or in the worst case of possibilities, our fighter jets were not on standby 24/7.
“That would have important ramifications on our nation’s security,” Ariff Sabri wrote.
He also questioned RMAF chief General Tan Sri Rodzali Daud’s statement that the military radars had detected a possible turn back of flight MH370 hours into the Saturday flight.
“Which radar captured the turn back? The commercial radar at Pengkalan Chepa or the Aerial Surveillance Radar set up by one Zetro Aerospace Corporation. That radar cost us RM72 million and it can’t track the turn back?
“Was that radar capable of continuous tracking or it lost the plane as quickly as it captured it on its system? Was the radar functional at all?” Ariff Sabri asked.
Zetro Aerospace is one of Malaysia’s biggest defence contractors specialising in avionics and has had contracts with RMAF since 1998. It holds three government contracts for maintenance and repair of aircraft radios, airborne radar, air traffic control and air defence communications, radar and navigational aids.
It received a RM43 million contract to modernise the radar systems at two RMAF bases in Kuantan and Butterworth in 2005.
Among its consultants is former RMAF chief Tan Sri Nik Ismail Nik Mohamad, who was helming the air force when the radar systems was modernised.
The new system in Kuantan and Butterworth replaced the “Astrid” monitoring technology which had been used by the RMAF for more than 20 years.
The then Defence Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Subhan Jasmon said the upgrading works done by Zetro had helped the ministry save more than 70% as a similar system supplied by foreign companies would cost more than RM150 million.
Malaysia’s radar systems came into spotlight in 2011 when Singapore disputed Putrajaya’s claims of 2,058 incidents of airspace violations by the republic’s air force since 2008 – leading to questions about the radar systems maintenance.
Also in 2010, the Defence Ministry finally confirmed at the Dewan Negara that it bought two Czech-made Vera-E passive surveillance radars for RM7.2 million in 2007.
Then Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said the purchase of the Vera-E, a highly advanced sensor that can detect aircraft, ships and ground vehicles from signals emitted by their radar, communications and other onboard electronic systems, was to protect the country’s air space. – March 17, 2014.