NEW DELHI: The Indian military establishment has rejected the possibility that the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which mysteriously disappeared eight days en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, could have flown over India on way to Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan in Central Asia.
This came after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Saturday said the missing plane’s last communication with a satellite suggested it could have been “deliberately diverted”, after its transponders were switched off, into “two possible corridors or arcs”. The northern one was identified as stretching from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, while the southern one from Indonesia to southern Indian Ocean.
“If the jetliner had tried to cross the Indian mainland, our primary radars (which bounce radio signals off targets) would have picked it up despite its transponders being switched off (secondary radars beam signals that request information from a plane’s transponders),” said a top IAF officer.
If an “unidentified” plane had been picked up flouting prescribed procedures or with switched-off transponders or not “squawking” IFF (identification, friend or foe) codes, a series of “air defence measures” would have kicked in – including the scrambling of fighters – to “detect, identify, intercept and destroy” the intruder.
Senior IAF and Navy officers admitted there were “a few gaps” in India’s civil and military radar networks but stressed it would be “virtually impossible” for a jetliner to fly undetected across the Indian mainland. “The five Airports Authority of India radars at Delhi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Mumbai are integrated with IAF’s air defence network. The possibility is far-fetched,” said an officer.
“Why also forget the robust air defence networks of countries like Pakistan, fully-geared towards India, or the US-led forces in Afghanistan or Iran for that matter, all of which would have been on this so-called flight arc,” he added.
Former IAF vice-chief Air Marshal P K Barbora, in turn, added, “Both India and Pakistan are very wary of any blip that comes up on their radars…it’s very unlikely that a plane could have flown across the vast stretch of land without being detected by one or some other country. An aircraft flying low to avoid radars would not be able to go such a long distance.”
Indian officials are of the opinion that MH370, hijacked or otherwise, probably went down in the Bay of Bengal or southern Indian Ocean after being diverted and flying close to the Malacca Strait. And that is precisely where India is concentrating its search as part of the ongoing multi-nation hunt for the missing jetliner.
“The Navy, IAF and Coast Guard are scanning an area spanning over 2,50,000 sq km in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal with six warships and extensive aerial surveillance by aircraft like P-8I long-range maritime patrol planes, medium-range Dornier-228s and a C-130J Super Hercules with electro-optic and infra-red sensors. But so far, no sighting or detection has been reported,” said an officer.