SeaDemon Says

Posts Tagged ‘Air Defence

It is a sad day for the nation. We lost two Ops Daulat heroes, Major Mohd Hasri Zahari RMAF, and Major Yazmi Mohamed Yusof RMAF.  The nation mourns for them.  What happened to them 21 minutes into their flight, 60 kilometers North Northeast from the Kuantan Air Base will not be known until the Board that has been set up to investigate this incident comes out with its final report.

Details are sketchy.  The pair took off at 11.09am and communications was lost at 11.30am.  They were said to be performing a Functional Check Flight, which requires a rather complex form of flight manouvers depending on the function that needs to be tested.  For example, an aircraft that has recently had an engine change will need a specific profile for that Functional Check Flight.

If it was a Functional Check Flight, the crew would have had a checklist that they needed to follow.  They would record their findings according to each of the item, in sequential order, given in the checklist for them to perform before signing off upon completion of the Functional Check Flight.

Something must have happened in the midst of the flight that only the Board would be able to deduce after gathering all the facts.

Officers and men (and women) of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, like in the other services, are paid to die if necessary.  When they step into the aircraft, no matter how well they are maintained, there is that nagging little part in their mind that knows that there is a chance that they might not come back alive.  Just as we drive to work every day.  When we leave home, how sure are we that we will get to see our family again?  But the pilots knew what was expected of them when they applied to join His Majesty’s Armed Forces.  We, as Malaysians, know that these two would die for anything as long as others may live. My only grouse is, every time something like this happens, instant “experts” flood the Internet with baseless accusations and theories.

THEORY NO.1 – LIKE MH370 THE RMAF RADAR PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING AGAIN, THAT IS WHY THE AIRCRAFT IS STILL MISSING

For those who still think that radar covers everything that is above the surface of the Earth, please have someone swing a baseball bat at your head – repeatedly.  Radar only covers some 15 percent of the surface of the Earth.  The Air Defence people did not sleep that night when the MH370 went missing.  They saw where it went until the aircraft went out of radar coverage.  You can read more about it here. The details of the flight may have changed a bit as we have learnt much more about what happened at night, but the RMAF was spot on with its procedures.

In the case of the missing BAe Hawk 108 aircraft, you must first know how radar works.  The radar transmits a radio beam which bounces off a flying object, and the beam that is bounced back is received by the radar’s receiver.  This is then translated as an image on the radar screen for the operator to see.

I explained a bit more early this month on how the RMAF Air Defence radar works.  Please read about it here.

The Hawk went down.  Which means it no longer reflected any beam for the radar receiver to receive.  How can there be any image showing on the screen?  So based on the last seen position, a search-and-rescue team was dispatched by helicopter to the last known location of the missing Hawk.  They found the bodies of the pilot but not the aircraft.  This I shall answer in…

THEORY NO.2 – THE HAWK IS MISSING BECAUSE THE RMAF DOES NOT KNOW WHERE IT IS

This is the obvious, actually.  If the RMAF know where the aircraft is, this theory of your would be academic.  But no.  If you expect to find a wreckage that is almost intact, think again.

In 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 fell out of the sky after taking off from Miami and disappeared in the Everglades.  The DC-9 aircraft with 110 on board was shredded into pieces by the impact.  It took months before they could retrieve as many pieces of the wreckage that could be found.

In 1993, an RMAF PC-7 crashed into a paddy field in Perlis.  The PC-7 is a much slower aircraft compared to the Hawk.  When I arrived at the scene, it too was shredded into pieces.  Nothing that resembled an aircraft could be seen.  We found the engine a couple of days later buried 12 meters deep in the soft paddy field.

The ground where the Hawk is said to have gone missing is a secondary jungle that is swampy in nature.  The wreckage could be in there somewhere. All we need to find is the impact point.  This may also be related to Theory No.4.  But that is for later.

THEORY NO.3 – THE HAWK IS AN OLD JUNK

How old is old for an aircraft?

I shall not compare military aircraft to civilian airliners.  I shall not even compare the Hawk to the C-130H that we have been operating since 1976.  They conduct different missions and face different kind of airframe stresses.  However, be mindful that the Royal New Zealand Air Force operates C-130s that are more than 50 years old.  Older than I am, in fact.

I will then compare the Hawk to another aircraft that probably faces even greater airframe stresses – the F-16A.  The United States Air Force retired its F-16s that entered service in 1979 only five years ago.  Therefore they were in service for 33 years!  The Hawk has been in service in the RMAF for 22 years now.  The USAF has over 5,000 aircraft and the average age of 25 years!  The Republic of Singapore Air Force only retired its A-4SU after 31 years in service.  In fact, our F-5Es entered service in 1975 and was only retired in 2015 the same year the RSAF retired its F-5Ss after 36 years!  Was it old?  Ask a Tiger-driver how superb the F-5 was as it was retired.  Only the avionics could be considered old.

THEORY NO.4 – WHY DIDN’T THEIR CHUTES OPEN? DON’T THEY HAVE EJECTION SEATS?

The bodies were found 20 meters from each other.  An eyewitness said that she saw both men with their chute deployed.  I don’t know how credible this eyewitness is.  I hope that she is not as credible as the makcik who said she saw the MH370 somewhere in the North Andaman Sea from 40,000 feet.

Truth be told, I am sure that the top brass are as equally perplexed as I am.  That is why they have convened a Board to investigate this.

Could they have ejected?  Perhaps.  I can only think of them being too low and were in a full dive when they did so.  Back i the 1980s, an Aermacchi MB-339A that was performing aerobatics went into a dive.  The air crew ejected but they were too low and the orientation of the aircraft was not one in which they could have ejected safely.  At least one of the air crew wen through the wall of a house.

Being in full dive would also explain the missing aircraft as it could be in shreds with a large portion of it down in the swampy ground.  I can only speculate here and I hate to speculate.

So, let us just let the RMAF conduct their investigation and we get on with our daily lives, can we?  And in the meantime, let us offer our heroes some prayers, and pray that the family they have left behind be given the strength to face the dark days ahead until light comes shining back into their life.

And stop hiding behind user names and keyboards while hitting out at the RMAF over this incident.  Cowards will die many times while the brave die but once.

An RMAF Sukhoi Su-30MKM multirole combat aircraft performs a tight turn on a hot afternoon

Many are awed by the performances put by the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s stars at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace 2017 exhibition – the Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flanker and the Boeing F/A-18D Hornet.

Many can imagine the manoeuvres these mighty aircrafts could do in combat, but not many know who or what makes them tick.

They are the Air Defence Controllers, the guardians of Malaysian airspace.

An air defence radar basks in the sunset

Majority of Malaysians are not aware of their existence until the MH370 disappeared.  Suddenly, this silent service came under an intense spotlight, especially when shone by those who do not have an iota of idea of how airspace and air defence in Malaysia work.

When Malaya gained independence in 1957, the airspace of the nation was only monitored by two long-range radars located at Western Hill in Pulau Pinang and Bukit Gombak in Singapore through the Anglo-Malayan Defence Arrangement which ended in the late 1960s.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) set up three air defence centres (ADCs) namely the No.1  ADC at the Butterworth airbase, No.2 ADC at Bukit Jugra, and No.3 ADC at the Kuantan airbase.  These three ADCs shouldered the responsibility of monitoring our airspace.

The late Tun Haji Abdul Razak visiting the No.1 ADC accompanied by the Chief of RMAF, Air Vice Marshall Dato’Sulaiman bin Sujak (later Tan Sri)

The RMAF has since expanded its air defence by creating five squadrons to also cover Sabah and Sarawak, and one Ground-Based Air Defence Squadron.

So how is it that it is the Air Defence Controllers who make the fighters tick?

There are two types of radar in use by the RMAF, Primary and Secondary.  While the radar rotates 360-degrees, radio waves are transmitted and will bounce off targets as an echo and is received by the radar system’s receiver unit.

The Primary radar is the one that transmits the energy waves that bounces off targets while the Secondary radar interrogates the signal from the target’s transponder.  This is then processed and the data is fed into the Command and Control system which is displayed on a screen and the target is then tracked by a Surveillance Officer who tracks and labels the target.

An Identification Officer then conducts identification procedures by correlating both radar and track data with information received from other agencies such as the Department of Civil Aviation.  If the target does not correspond with a non-hostile or non-civilian target, then the unidentified target will be reported to the Officer-in-Charge.

An RMAF radar Command and Reporting Centre (CRC)

The Officer-in-Charge then conducts a threat assessment and evaluation of the unidentified target.  Simultaeneously, the recognised air situation data is also displayed in the National Air Defence Centre to enable the Higher Authority to monitor the situation and assist effective decision making.

A visual identification of the unidentified target may be needed, or if the target poses a threat, the Officer-in-Charge then scrambles fighters to intercept the target.  If threat exists, the RMAF’s surface-to-air defence systems would be put on the highest alert to anticipate a hostile act by the said target.

A fighter is scrambled to intercept the target

The pilot intercepting the target will then make a visual identification of the target and report back to the Fighter Controller.  Instructions and orders from the Higher Authority are also relayed back to the intercepting pilot who will then execute either a Force Down procedure or chase the target out of our airspace while comunicating with the target either through the radio or signals.

Only if the instructions are not obeyed will the pilot escalate the rules of engagement.  If the instructions are obeyed and a force down is required, the intercepting pilot will escort the target to the nearest airfield or airport where the target will be investigated.

The elaborate and complex systems that the RMAF Air Defence Centres employ are among the best, and therefore need the continuous support and understanding of not only the higher management of the RMAF, but also of the Government to ensure that hardware, software and its operators remain dynamic, well-maintained and trained.

And although they are mostly trained locally by the RMAF, some do get their training elsewhere in the world. For example the RMAF has had officers do their Basic Air Defence Operator Course in Australia.  Some get trained as Air Weapons Controller in the United States of America. Some attend their Master Controller Course in England, Advanced Defence Weapons Controller in Bangladesh to name a few.

RMAF Air Defence Officers attending their Basic Air Defence Operators Course in Australia during the earlier days of the RMAF

And when you spend your time with your family, friends, or sleep at night, and while the interceptor pilots are on standby inside their crew room, remember this – you only get to go about living a happy life and going about with your personal business because of these glamourless silent sentinels who watch our airspace round the clock.


Taqweem al-SeaDemon

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