SYDNEY, March 17 Australia has accepted a
request from Malaysia to take charge of the "southern vector" of
the search for a Malaysia Airlines jetliner missing
for more than a week with 239 people on board, Prime Minister
Tony Abbott said on Monday.
Abbott said he had offered additional surveillance resources
to bolster the two Australian Orion aircraft already searching
for the plane during a recent phone call with Prime Minister
"He asked that Australia take responsibility for the search
in the southern vector, which the Malaysian authorities now
think was one possible flight path for this ill-fated aircraft,"
Abbott told lawmakers in parliament.
"I agreed that we would do so."
The search for flight MH370 is focusing on a wide strip of
territory either side of two arcs formed by satellite plots of
the aircraft's last known possible position.
The southern Indian Ocean is one of the most remote places
in the world and also one of the deepest, posing potentially
enormous challenges for the international search effort.
The northern vector of the search stretches through Thailand
and China and bends towards India, Pakistan and then Central
Asia, over some of the world's most strongly guarded defences.
Abbott said Australian Defence Force chief David Hurley was
in discussion with his Malaysian counterparts about how best to
deploy the additional resources, without providing further
details, in the search for the Boeing 777-200ER.
On Sunday, Australia shifted one of its two Orion aircraft
searching for the missing plane further south in the Indian
Ocean, at Malaysia's request. The aircraft is now searching the
ocean to the north and west of the remote Cocos Islands. The
second Orion is continuing to search west of Malaysia.
Australia has a military over-the-horizon radar (OTHR)
network, which allows it to observe all air and sea activity
north and northwest of Australia for up to 3,000 km (1,860
However, the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN),
which has radar capability extending into the Indian Ocean, does
not operate on a 24-hour basis, according to Royal Australian
Air Force (RAAF) documents.
JORN is used primarily to provide defence surveillance of
Australia's northern approaches but does not continually "sweep"
an area like conventional radars. Instead, it "dwells" on a
Australia's Defence Department did not reply to repeated
requests for information on JORN, including details on its
operations and whether the network had detected Flight MH370.
Australia's civil aviation radar extends a maximum of just
200 nautical miles (410 km) off the coast, a civil aviation
authority source said, and is used only for monitoring scheduled
aircraft on approach into the country and subsequent landings.
Asked before his parliamentary statement whether any
Australian agencies had found information to suggest the plane
might have come close to Australia, Abbott said: "I don't have
any information to that effect."
"But all of our agencies that could possibly help in this
area are scouring their data to see if there's anything that
they can add to the understanding of this mystery."