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United States The Military Technology

US Navy Strategists Have a Long History of Finding the Lost 145

Posted by samzenpus
from the serach-continues dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Benedict Carey reports at the NYT that the uncertainties surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370's disappearance are enormous, but naval strategists have been unraveling lost-at-sea mysteries as far back as the U-boat battles of World War II, and perhaps most dramatically in 1968, when an intelligence team found the submarine Scorpion, which sank in the North Atlantic after losing contact under equally baffling circumstances. "The same approach we used with Scorpion could be applied in this case and should be," says John P. Craven who helped pioneer the use of Bayesian search techniques to locate objects lost at sea. "But you need to begin with the right people." The approach is a kind of crowdsourcing, but not one in which volunteers pored over satellite images, like they have in search of Flight 370. "That effort is akin to good Samaritans combing a forest for a lost child without knowing for certain that the child is there," writes Carey.

Instead, forecasters draw on expertise from diverse but relevant areas — in the case of finding a submarine, say, submarine command, ocean salvage, and oceanography experts, as well as physicists and engineers. Each would make an educated guess as to where the ship is, based on different scenarios: the sub was attacked; a torpedo activated onboard; a battery exploded. Craven's work was instrumental in the Navy's search for the missing hydrogen bomb that had been lost in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Spain in 1966 and this is how Craven located the Scorpion. "I knew these guys and I gave probability scores to each scenario they came up with," says Craven. The men bet bottles of Chivas Regal to keep matters interesting, and after some statistical analysis, Craven zeroed in on a point about 400 miles from the Azores, near the Sargasso Sea. The sub was found about 200 yards away.

In the case of the downed Malaysian plane, forecasters might bring in climate and ocean scientists, engineers who worked on building the plane's components and commercial pilots familiar with the route. Those specialists would then make judgments based on the scenarios already discussed as possible causes for the disappearance of Flight 370: terrorism, pilot error, sudden depressurization and engine failure. Sound-detection technology in and around the Indian Ocean may aid this forecasting. The sound of the airliner's fall — if it hit the water — might already have been picked up by submarines watching each other. "In that case the information would be classified," says former submarine commander Alfred Scott McLare, "and we wouldn't know anything until it was released through back channels somehow.""
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US Navy Strategists Have a Long History of Finding the Lost

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  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @01:46PM (#46499427)
    Some of the earlier "finds" referenced in this article had a lot more evidence and a lot less of a geographic area. I think right now the flight is determined without a doubt to be "somewhere in asia, maybe." It was maybe being flown by a pilot but maybe by hijackers. It was maybe flying for 0 more hours after it last checked in or maybe 5 or maybe something in the middle and at a unknown speed.
    They have about the same odds of finding it on the moon as they do at any particular geographic point with the current level of evidence. So what they need is more evidence, not just a really good search team from the Navy.
  • Scorpion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Solandri (704621) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @02:52PM (#46499871)

    and perhaps most dramatically in 1968, when an intelligence team found the submarine Scorpion, which sank in the North Atlantic after losing contact under equally baffling circumstances. "The same approach we used with Scorpion could be applied in this case and should be," says John P. Craven who helped pioneer the use of Bayesian search techniques to locate objects lost at sea.

    Not so fast. The Scorpion was found because the U.S. had an extensive underwater listening array in the Atlantic (SOSUS [wikipedia.org]) designed specifically to (wait for it...) locate and track submarines. Soviet submarines, but it worked equally well on U.S. submarines which were making a lot of noise - like one in its death throes from an onboard explosion and imploding as it passed crush depth. One of their first clues that something disastrous had happened was when those sounds showed up on SOSUS audio tapes.

    Yes the same methodology can (and should) be applied inn locating MH370. But we're talking about uncertainties in location and time an order or three in magnitude larger than for the Scorpion or AF447.

  • by Aighearach (97333) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @04:01PM (#46500323) Homepage

    the passengers however, was probably killed when they climbed to 45.000 feet

    The official service ceiling is 43,100 ft. So you can be darn sure that 45000 ft (44000 in the most detailed reports) is not going to kill anybody. You do know the cabin is pressurized, right?

    damned thing can easily be disguised as civilian traffic and can fly around the world and place it where ever they want...

    Not without turning on a transponder. And while you can obviously fly over Malaysia without one and not raise an eyebrow, getting over Western countries without a transponder might prove more difficult. Somebody doesn't just peek up from the ground and say, "ah, gee, looks civilian, let it pass." They actually see it on radar, and most countries will scramble fighters and intercept something large that doesn't have a transponder, or isn't scheduled to be in the area. They then fly close and identify markings. They fly close enough to see faces in the windows when they're doing an escort. An empty plane with no transponder is going to get shot down. So it is substantially more complicated.

    There was at least 1 fairly high level American business exec on the flight. There is significant hostage value there. If they are religious nuts they probably don't care the slightest bit what the "value" in dollars of the airplane is, they care about the propaganda value.

    If the incentive was financial, (highly unlikely) the parts value of the plane is very low, or zero, but the whole plane has significant value as an AWACS type of platform for a smaller country. And while selling parts would be problematic, buying them might not be. 30 years ago, maybe. Not now.

    If they were going to use it as a bomb, the most realistic targets would be India, or a US military base somewhere where they don't control the airspace.

  • Re:Arcs are a lie (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rasmusbr (2186518) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @04:55PM (#46500599)

    Well, am an engeneer and a scientist.

    And considering that arcs (as presented) do not have error brackets on them is a dead giveaway that qualifications of people who did the calculations are highly suspect.

    But we haven't necessarily seen the maps that the search effort uses internally. This: http://static01.nyt.com/images... [nyt.com] looks like someone drew it in 20 seconds in MS Paint, I'm guessing while in a hurry.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:19PM (#46500769)

    Seems like a good precaution... Probably more effective than the TSA.

  • by GumphMaster (772693) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @08:26PM (#46501837)

    The classic Mode C transponder simply blurts out the four octal digit code programmed by the flight crew (at ATC request usually) every time it is painted by a secondary radar (typically associated with a primary radar and usable over longer range that the primary). The code is associated by ATC with that flight in that control zone for that time only. A Mode S transponder carries a 24-bit globally unique ID that is registered to the particular airframe. This code is attached to the response any selective query for altitude, airspeed, heading, rates of change etc. Although it can be changed in the equipment (e.g. for maintenance reasons) this is not a normal function of flight operations. An ADS-B system actively broadcasts much of the same information as Mode S including an absolute position and the unique ID. Turning off these devices negates the presence of the unique id.

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