The US military announced it is calling off its search for an F-35 stealth fighter that disappeared in the Pacific this time last month.
A Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-35A Joint Strike Fighter piloted by Maj. Akinori Hosomi mysteriously vanished from radar on April 9, 2019, the first time this version of the F-35 has crashed. The US sent the destroyer USS Stethem, P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, and a U-2 spy plane to assist Japan in its search for the fifth-generation fighter and its pilot. Later, a US Navy salvage team joined the hunt.
The destroyer and maritime patrol aircraft scoured 5,000 square nautical miles of ocean over a period of 182 hours at sea before concluding their search. The Navy salvage team managed to recover the flight recorder and parts of the cockpit canopy.
The US Navy is ending its support in the search for the missing fighter, US 7th Fleet announced May 8, 2019. Japan is, however, planning to continue looking for the aircraft.
F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook)
“We will continue our search and recovery of the pilot and the aircraft that are still missing, while doing utmost to determine the cause,” Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya announced, according to Japanese media. It is unclear if, or at what point, Japan would abandon the search.
It is highly unusual for a country to continue the search for a missing military pilot longer than a week, with near certainty they are dead and that the ships and planes have more pressing missions than finding a body in thousands of miles of ocean. But this is the first time an F-35 stealth fighter has gone missing and some observers have said the missing plane would be an intelligence windfall to rivals like China.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is the most expensive weapon in the world today. It’s secrets are well protected, but currently, one of these fighters is in pieces on the ocean floor. Amid speculation that it might be vulnerable, both US and Japanese defense officials dismissed the possibility of another country, such as Russia or China getting its hands on the crashed fighter.
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