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US Sends Sea Search UAV to Australia

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U.S. Sends Sea Search Equipment to Australia

(Source: US Department of Defense; issued March 24, 2014)

WASHINGTON --- As the United States continues to support the search for the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, the Navy is sending a towed pinger locator, as well as a Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, to Perth, Australia, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

The pinger could be used to locate the missing airliner’s black box, while the autonomous underwater vehicle has sophisticated sonars that could be used to locate wreckage. Malaysian officials said evidence points to the plane crashing in the Indian Ocean west of Australia.

The equipment has left New York for Australia and should be there tomorrow, Kirby said during a Pentagon news conference.

“There will be a small number of people going along with them,” he added. “In fact, I think there are two on the flight with the gear itself, and then another eight folks will be flying separately to Perth to prepare the equipment.”

Nothing has been easy with this search; Kirby noted that no debris field has been sighted yet. “We don’t have anything to indicate where the aircraft is, or even that it is down at the bottom of the ocean,” he told reporters.

But Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, “made a very prudent and wise decision to move the equipment that could be useful should a debris field be found, or should we think we can get close to where the black box may be,” Kirby said. “He made a decision to get that gear there now so that, again, should we be in that position, it will be a lot easier to get it on station.”

Malaysian officials made the request for the equipment from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week.

The Bluefin autonomous underwater vehicle is an underwater unmanned vehicle that has side-scanning sonar and a multi-beam echo sounder. It would be useful should there be a debris field or other underwater objects that need to be examined. The Bluefin can dive to 14,700 feet, and has an endurance of 25 hours at three knots.

If needed, the equipment will operate off an Australian commercial ship. Neither piece of equipment needs to be embarked on warships.

Meanwhile, U.S. participation in the aerial search continues, the admiral said.