Sunday, 16 March 2014

Multinational military operation comes together to find missing B-777

Getty Image (2014) from the Telegraph (UK) Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency
Commander sets mission search grid into on-board computer.

Disaster Management is not a isolated group of people and assets inside a bubble. It often requires teamwork and expertise from outside normal channels and organizations. We have seen large scale disaster operations bring in domestic and international military units as full partners in support a disaster response. It often makes the difference between success or failure during recovery operations.
This has been particularly true since governments have made the military and important part of disaster management policy. Successful operations go back prior to the turn of the century.

Malaysia Airline's B-777 missing since March 8, 2014 is a disaster recovery operation requiring not only Malaysian military support, but also those of its allies, in particular, the U.S. Navy, which has sent ships and aviation experts from its National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Federal Aviation Agency (FAA). A unique asset that has been deployed is the US Navy's newest surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft based on a Boeing B-737-800 series commercial aircraft, the Poseidon P-8.

The U.S. Navy is upgrading and replacing older platforms, in particular its Lockheed P-3 Orion's. But this time, the Navy went in a unique direction, specifying that the aircraft be based on a commercial off the shelf (COTS) platform and be fully inter-operable with not only military networks and technology, but also civilian equivalents. This the first operational disaster recovery deployment of the P-8 since it began to roll of the assembly line in production trim in 2012. Twelve P-8's (of  a planned 117) are now operational.

Several International versions are also in production for India and Australia. It is not yet known if Australia will deploy theirs (it has sent a P-3 Orion) while India has sent one of their P-8I's in support. The amount of area to cover is immense. (see link of Satellite imagery area covered in our Flipboard Magazine) The P-8 can stay airborne for 4 hours plus transit time of  1,200 nautical miles. Over the coming days, this P-8 and 34 other aircraft will be flying hundreds of flight hours covering an area of approximately 8,000 square nautical miles.

Like the Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda response, this will be a coordinated effort involving military units from 15 nations in addition to Malaysia; Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United States and Vietnam. This is probably the largest civil multinational military disaster recovery operation to take place since Haiyan, which involved 12 nations and required very little integration. This time around it is very different as assignments and information coordination will be critical to its success.  It will place significant stress search team coordinators as factors such as the weather and ocean conditions interfere with search and recovery efforts. Teams will be required to be vigilant in not overlapping or missing search areas. The ocean does not offer street signs or the ability to anchor physical markers. It will all rest on the shoulders of mission planners and grids on a map, electronic or paper ensuring every square mile of land and ocean is covered. It sounds easy, but it far from it, when organizing a multinational military group that operate in different languages, procedures and operational capabilities, all funneling into a civilian government that has very little experience dealing with this type of event. Everything from a De Havilland Twin Otter to a B-737 in the air, to Coast Guard Cutters and fast Frigates are being used, all with different areas of responsibility, mission capability, search coverage limits and crew duration differences.

Getty Images (2014) from the Telegraph (UK)
Philippine soldiers review map to begin search operations.
Only time will tell if the techniques and plans implemented were successful. It will certainly be an mission that will be recorded with many lessons learned by all the participants and likely be repeated in sand tables exercises around the world.

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