Why on earth would Australia, and the US bother to find a lost airplane that crashed into the ocean? And the answer is, because it crashed into an Asian part of the ocean. Yeah, the Asian part of the ocean is very interesting to the U.S. military for several reasons; but let’s get back to Malaysia for a moment. Malaysia couldn’t find the plane and didn’t want to spend the money needed to continue the search. It makes sense, Malaysia’s economy is healthy and growing, but the country has a middle-income level economy and wants to focus its resources on growth. For the Malaysians, at some point, a plane in the ocean is a lost cause.
Treaties Extend Territory
Malaysia has treaties that allow them to participate in joint military exercises. As a small Southeast Asian country Malaysia’s territory is regional, but with trade and military treaties a small country has a global reach. Malaysia participates in joint military exercises with several countries including, the United States, Thailand and Indonesia. There is especially coordination of Naval activities because the Malacca Straights are just off the coast of Malaysia. The Malacca Straights are one of the most highly utilized shipping lanes in the world and huge quantities of commercial shipping pass through the tiny channel between Malaysia and Sumatra. As the global watchdog Navy, the US is very interested.
So Malaysia, a small Islamic country with a population of just over 30 million people has a territorial reach way beyond what its military or economic resources would indicate. The persistence of the U.S. Navy and Australian Navy in pursuing the lost Malaysian airliner MH370 takes on a different significance in light of Malaysia’s treaties. The early part of the search for the lost aircraft was handled by Malaysian authorities. The demands of the search quickly moved beyond their personnel and equipment’s capacities. The United States and other countries offered to help as the search moved off land, out over the oceans surrounding Malaysia.
The search has become very expensive. In its second month it became the most expensive search and recovery effort in aviation history. It’s costing millions of dollars a day to have ships and planes criss-cross the Indian Ocean on search routes. Although there are many countries now involved in the search and each country is paying for its own search efforts, the cumulative cost is believed to be well over $160 million dollars. And, we’re not anywhere near the end of this search. If the plane is actually located, and at this point it seems it might be, then there is the extended costs of underwater search and potentially a underwater recovery effort. All of that could easily double the current costs.
So the central question becomes, why are they going to such extravagant efforts to find a plane that may be impossible to recover even if it is located? There are theories floating around from many places and all of them are speculation. A theory coming out of Pakistan suggests that the Taliban had captured American drone control hardware and that technology is unknown to most countries. This theory states that the Taliban sold this equipment to the Chinese and that it was on the plane that went down. Possibly the plane was diverted because of its cargo. The theory makes some sense until you begin to ask more questions about drone technology, which is mostly run out of Denver, and then it becomes less convincing.
The search is now being coordinated by Australian military out of Perth, on the western most coast of Australia. In a sense, Malaysia’s territory is now embracing the areas where all the search teams are working to recover the Malaysian plane. Why would there be such a huge coordination of efforts. This project reaches beyond the demands of the territorial treaties that Malaysia is party to. Another theory in the United States is that the U.S. military is very interested in finding how capable it is at recovering lost items that might be involved in a military engagement. Now flight MH370 wasn’t involved in any known military engagement, but the US military could see this as a practice shake down for future military conflicts. With so many counter claims of ocean territory in the South China Sea there could be serious military interactions ahead. Malaysia is involved in those South China Sea claims and counter claims, so this search effort could be a research project about how the various countries in Southeast Asia interact and cooperate during a crisis. But that doesn’t explain why these extended efforts now that it’s obvious which countries are in and which aren’t participating.
The other piece of the US theory is that the US military will always be outnumbered in any conflict with China or India so technology is what will determine the difference between military success and military failure if the US becomes engaged in an Asian conflict that involves China. If that’s true then the US will need to maintain a technology advantage. Losing military equipment would mean the enemy could capture the lost equipment and reverse engineer the technology.
In order that lost equipment not fall into enemy hands for re-engineering, the US would have to retrieve all lost items to insure it maintains a technology advantage. The search for flight MH370 begins to make sense if it’s seen as a practice run for this type of equipment retrieval. The US Navy may see these dollars as money well spent if this theory is accurate. Another piece of the puzzle is likely to show up in the way new airplane communication technology is adapted. New satellites carrying much more sophisticated computers than are now available could easily track airlines. And, of course the expanded search effort is a way of evaluating how effectively the current treaties are among Southeast Asian countries when a crisis occurs. For now, it looks as if the Malaysian territorial cycle is involved in a pretty successful treaty structure that extends their territory in the face of a crisis.