Return to Transcripts main page


Time For A Tech Upgrade?; Cost Of Putting GPS Systems On Aircraft

Aired March 19, 2014 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Also a story of incredible significance in the world, forces loyal to Russian president Vladimir Putin are cracking down on Ukrainian military in Crimea. Early this morning, armed men burst into Ukraine's naval headquarters, raised Russian flags, took the navy chief into custody, and sent the sailors packing. Thankfully, no shots were fired.

But just up the road, a Ukrainian car battalion was also attacked, according to Ukraine's defense ministry spokesperson, who wrote on Facebook, quote, "Ukrainian officers were made to leave the premises under the barrel of Russian guns," end quote.

The news comes just one day after a Ukrainian was killed at a military base in Crimea's capital. The first death in this stand-off. Let's go to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, live on the ground in Crimea. Nick, the speed of all these moves has been blinding. What can the West do?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very little at this point. The practical reality in Crimea is we've seen a pattern all day of pressure against these outstanding bases here. One you mentioned in fact cleared out just about an hour-and-a-half ago. Russian troops moving in. I spoke to the captain of those remaining Ukrainian soldiers, said they were simply marched off at gunpoint, not going to be allowed back. They've been holding out for a week.

Barack Obama will meet with the G-7 in The Hague next week and perhaps we'll hear harder rhetoric. We heard from NATO's chief today that he believes - that this is not actually -- Crimea is not the end game for Putin. It's part of a broader strategy. So there's a part of the recognition in the West that Russia is about a broader project here, perhaps. And Russia, it seems, we listened to Putin just two days ago perhaps even almost reveling in the isolation that this is creating for Russia. He sees the Soviet past as something to recreate, not some that failed, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much. Stay safe, please.

Vice president Joe Biden today condemned Putin's move as part of Russia's dark path.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation.


TAPPER: But could that dark path be leading to another Russian land grab, and where could Putin strike next? Let's bring in Peter Brookes, senior fellow of national security affairs from the Heritage Foundation. And Fiona Hill, director of the Brookings Center on the United States and Europe, and author of "Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin."

Fiona, I want to start with you. Speaking in Estonia today, Vice President Biden tried to reassure NATO's allies. But Fiona, you just met with the NATO secretary general. How worried is he that the Putin's push into Crimea is just the beginning?

FIONA HILL, DIRECTOR, BROOKINGS CENTER ON U.S. AND EUROPE: Well, he was very concerned. In direct response to a question about you know, are things going to calm down now, is Crimea is the furthest extent, he actually went so far to say not only did he think that was not the case and that there was more we should anticipate, but to start to enumerate some of the possibilities. Including some of the territory next to Ukraine. The secessionist republic of (INAUDIBLE) that has broken away from the state of Moldova, specifically. He also mentioned Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Not in the sense that Russia would try to grab this, but what he saw was the possibility of Russia trying to manipulate this conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and in other places, to essentially have leverage over the countries on its periphery. The former members of the Soviet Union to stop them from pursuing their desires to associate more closely with the European Union, NATO and other parts the Euro-Atlantic space.

TAPPER: Peter, earlier, just actually a few hours ago, Reuters reported that a Russian diplomat said they are also concerned -- quote unquote "concerned" about the status of Russian speakers in Estonia. Now, Estonia is in NATO. And that means - well, explain to people the difference perhaps between some of the countries Fiona just mentioned and Estonia and Poland.

PETER BROOKES, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Right. These are frontline states, the Baltics, Poland, the major state Slovakia borders Ukraine. These countries have Russian speakers, Russian passport holders, ethnic Russians. But they're part of NATO. So if Russia were to take some sort of military move against these countries, Article 5 of NATO would come into play -

TAPPER: Article 5 being an attack on one is an attack on all.

BROOKES: That's right. Now consultations would take place. Countries aren't required to do anything, but it could mean a military response from NATO and the United States, which is obviously the leader.

TAPPER: Fiona, how badly has this damaged the West's strength, the perception around the world that the West is strong?

HILL: Well, obviously, it has done some real damage to the credibility of many of the Western institutions. The trigger for this round of events was actually the decision on the part of Ukraine and Moldova, as well as Georgia, to pursue an association agreement with the European Union. So, Russia made it very clear to all of those countries and also to Armenia, which had been contemplating this that this was unacceptable. So we ended up in a showdown, which in many respects triggered off a course of events that has led to the fall of Yanukovych in Ukraine and Russia moving into Crimea.

So it's not just the issue of NATO and the credibility of NATO guaranteeing the security and (INAUDIBLE) of its member states, but it's also the credibility of the E.U. and what the European Union stands for. Essentially, Russia has lumped the E.U. and NATO together in a association of economic and security might that it is now going to draw a firm red line against it, telling the republics, the states on its borders, you cannot join any of these institutions and we will take steps to prevent you from doing so. So, it's denying the independent choice of these countries that the E.U. and NATO has always seen as being a key part of those alliances. But the West, it's the free choice if countries decide to join, and it's the free choice of E.U. and NATO if criteria met for those states to become part of those associations.

TAPPER: Peter, you say the best chance to stop Putin has come and gone, but what can the West do now?

BROOKES: The administration's policy has gone from reset to regret. There's no doubt about that. I mean, I think we should have acted stronger. There are opportunities diplomatically, militarily, economically, to show strength. We can't be self-deterred here. This could get a lot worse, and if we seem like we're in a position of appeasing, then Russia might even go further, talking about Estonia, the Baltics. So there are real concerns here.

Economic sanctions have to be significant. Military exercises -- I've heard, I'm not sure about this, Jake, but I've heard that we have no tanks in Germany today, if you can believe that. There are no U.S. tanks in Germany, and we have a limited amount of troops. E.U. has to get - the European Union and NATO has to get serious about defense spending. We have to think about our defense spending here.

We have another problem. It's Russia. We talk about China, East China Sea, and the South China Sea. We've got a problem on the other side of the world. We need to be serious about it, reassure our allies, work together and make sure Russia realizes that any going any further will be a huge mistake.

TAPPER: All right. We'll continue covering this in the days and weeks to come. Thank you so much. Fiona Hill, Peter Brookes, we appreciate it.

Wolf Blitzer is now here with a preview of THE SITUATION ROOM. Wolf, you've been talking every day with the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet. They're involved in the search. Where are they now? What kind of resources?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: They have aerial surveillance, (AUDIO GAP) and a P-8, the Position, which is the newer version. P-3 is the Orion. And it was really shocking today because all day, that U.S. P-3 was in Malaysia, getting ready to fly over the southern part of the Indian Ocean, but the Indonesian government would not let this American naval plane fly over Indonesian airspace. Finally, they had to cancel that mission.

The crew was ready, they were on the tarmac, they were moving. Our own Atika Shubert was standing there. She went inside, she was ready to fly with them. They would not let this plane take off. It's pretty shock what's going on. We're going to speak with the Commander William Marks. He's the spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet. We'll get the latest on this latest, very irritating development.

TAPPER: That's incredible. All right, Wolf Blitzer, look forward to watching that.

Coming up next, other planes have it. Sophisticated technology that can track a jet in real time,mapping its every move, reporting technical emergencies immediately. So why was that machinery not on the Boeing 777?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now for our "Money Lead." It's a question casual observers of the story have wondered since pretty much day one instead of where on earth, how on earth. In the era of NSA with everyone basically carrying a tracking device in their pockets, how on earth did we lose a giant plane?

The truth is the airline industry is still relying heavily on tracking technology that was really cutting edge on D-day and what good are backstops any way when you can turn them off? Is there anything coming down the pipe that could save lives in situations like this? Anything that the airline industry would be willing to pay for?

Our Athena Jones takes a closer look.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The future of tracking flights could already be here. This is Boeing Corporation's 787 command center near Seattle where technicians track Airborne 787s in real time, mapping their location and monitoring maintenance and technical issues on screens throughout the center as they happen. If a plane has a tire pressure problem flying over the Atlantic, they'll know.

MARK SINNETT, BOEING: In fact, it's a little more extensive than that because there are several of us that get the messages to our Blackberrys and so, where ever we are, whether we're in the room or we are off on a picnic somewhere, we'll find out about it immediately.

JONES: But command centers this sophisticated don't exist for 777s and other smaller and older aircraft and tracking every plane flying at any given time this closely would be a massive undertaking and of course, the systems have to be turned on to work. That's one of the biggest problems in this search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight. The plane's transponder and the ACAR system that sends back data about the plane's health were apparently switched off.

WALLACE: It wouldn't surprise me that in the aftermath of this investigation, a safety recommendation comes typically from the National Transportation Safety Board certainly in this country, say you just have to put on a tracking system in every airliner that cannot be disabled.

JONES: Another piece of technology that could be due for an upgrade, flight data recorders. Their batteries are only required to last 30 days and what's more the signals they send have a range of only about two miles, making them difficult to find unless search teams are close by and lucky. Athena Jones, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: Let's talk a little more about the complications of upgrading these planes and the cost with Andrew Thomas. He is the founding editor in chief for the Journal of Transportation, Security and the author of the book, "Soft Landing, Airline Industry Strategy Service and Safety."

Andrew, thanks so much for being here. First, explain how much a GPS- type system next gen could cost and how difficult is it to fully implement?

ANDREW THOMAS, FOUNDING EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "JOURNAL OF TRANSPORTATION SECURITY": There's been discussions over the past really decades about implementing a new air traffic control system in the United States and in fact, spreading that around the world, with the advent of GPS technology, this notion of next generation system came on board, came on the radar so to speak and the cost estimates have varied widely from anywhere from anywhere around 30 billion to 40 billion. This is implemented in the United States, upwards possibly to 70 billion or 80 billion.

Of course, it would take many, many years to make this happen and there's been a lot of resistance, a lot of concern and starts and stops with it. And it appears that even though GPS technology is widely available and used seemingly everywhere, it might not be something that gets introduced in the air traffic control system both in the United States and around the world anytime soon.

TAPPER: Is there a cheaper detection that would be of the quality that one could use it theoretically to find this plane?

THOMAS: Well, the FAA mandated that by 2020, such a cheaper fit or a cheaper technology will be placed on airplanes that would enable them to be spotted easier by air traffic controllers as well as pilots and other aircraft, but again, this is 2014. That's still a number of years away.

TAPPER: Do you think this type of incident, the Flight 370 incident, would be a catalyst to push the industry towards this type of technology or the airline executives still think this is so rare that it's not worth the money? THOMAS: Well, it's not really an airline question. I think the airlines, if given the opportunity, would love to have next gen. It really comes down to the federal government. The FAA is going to have to spend the bulk of the money, again this tens of billions of dollars, to make this happen and there's just again, not a lot of support for this on Capitol Hill.

As I wrote in my book that came on in 2011, if there was going to be an opportunity to have it funded, I thought it would have been when President Obama's $800 billion stimulus plan came out right after this election and there's a lot of people pressing to have Nextgen funded as part of that and there was no support on Capitol Hill or anywhere else in Washington for that.

So, given that opportunity with a blank check, it's going to be very hard going forward in this tight budget climate I think to find the kind of money necessary to make this happen.

TAPPER: Andrew Thomas, thank you so much.

THOMAS: Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, it has happened before. Planes vanishing without a trace and I'm not just talking about Ameila Earheart. Why some are asking if missing Flight 370 will ever be found. Coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Turning to our "Buried Lead" as the days stretch on, it's impossible to ignore the parallels between the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and some of the most nagging mysteries in the history of aviation, many of which remain unsolved including, of course, the grandmother of all plane puzzles, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

On July 2nd, 1937, Earhart's twin-engine plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean as she was attempting to fly around the world. As any school kid could probably tell you, she was never seen or heard from again. Then of course, there is the mystery surrounding Glenn Miller. Miller was of course a hugely popular big band leader in the '30s and '40s. During World War II, he was traveling around Europe performing for troops.

On December 15th, 1944, his plane vanished over the English Channel and the world never got to hear him do the Chattanooga Choo Choo ever again. Then we must mention the infamous Bermuda Triangle. Several aircrafts and ships have legitimately disappeared in this area over the decades including five U.S. Navy bombers known collectively as Flight 19.

The planes which looked a little bit like this took off from Fort Lauderdale on December 5th, 1945, only to disappear in the triangle with all 14 airmen aboard. The Navy dispatched a sea plane with a crew of 13 to look for the missing planes. That plane disappeared, too. There was another well-known flight disappearance on October 13th, 1972. A chartered plane carrying a rugby team vanished in South America. Anyone who saw the 1993 movie (inaudible) with Ethan Hawk knows this mystery was solved. The plane had crashed in the Andes Mountains. The 16 survivors were only found however more than two months later and only after two of them walked for ten days to find help. That search for the plane turned up nothing.

And more recent years, there is a mystery out of Angola on May 25th, 2003. A Boeing 727 took off without a flight plan or an OK from the tower. U.S. authorities got involved and at one point, they believe a man named Benjamin Padilla was at the controls. The plane along with whomever was board that was never seen again. Hopefully of course, for the sake of those about Flight 370 and their families, there is still an explanation out there somewhere for them and it will soon be learned.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM -- Wolf.