On April 10th, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces confirmed that one of its F-35A joint strike fighters crashed into the sea off the Aomori Prefecture in the norther of the country.
The Self-Defense Force and Coastguard dispatched vessels to carry out search and rescue operations. A spokesperson confirmed that the wreckage was recovered but the pilot was still missing.
Eight ships and seven aircraft, including a U.S. Navy P-8 Orion maritime patrol plane, are taking part in search and rescue efforts.
It is yet unclear what the reason behind the crash was, since officials said the pilot was accompanied by 3 other F-35A fighter jets on a training mission on April 9th.
Initially officials claimed there were no reports of a problem prior to losing contact.
Later on April 10th, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters that the pilot had signaled that he needed to abort the training mission shortly before communication was lost and the aircraft disappeared from radar.
The aircraft was at the front of a group of four planes out for training maneuvers when it sent an “aborting practice” signal and then disappeared from the radar, Iaway said.
“We’ll need to cooperate with the US forces and I believe arrangements are being made for this,” also adding that the priority was to determine the cause of the accident.
A Japanese Self-Defense Forces spokesperson said that the fighter jet was less than 1 year old and was delivered in May 2018. It was the first to be assembled in Japan and flew for 28 minutes before going down. The plane had logged a total of 280 hours in the air since its first flight.
13 F35As are currently deployed at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, and it’s set to become the country’s next-generation mainstay fighter. The remaining 12 F-35A fighter jets are grounded while the investigation is being conducted.
The manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd was asked by Reuters to provide a comment, but there was no response. The lost aircraft cost 14 billion yen ($125.98 million), several million dollars more than one purchased directly from the United States.
The Japanese F-35A, according to reports was the first ever A variant of the joint strike fighter to crash.
A F-35B fighter jet crashed after a short take off and landing (STOVL) near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina in September, prompting a temporary grounding of the aircraft. It’s believed the cause of the crash was the result of a faulty fuel tube.
Lockheed Martin is also currently working on a C variant to operate off carriers.
Earlier, in 2017 Australia grounded its F-35 fighter jets after a promised fix was not implemented.
Despite “only” 2 F-35s crashing, the most expensive military project ever continues to be plagued by constant issues. The F-35 program is expected to cost most than $1.5 trillion over the course of its 55-year lifespan, although the cost of each aircraft is expected to fall to $80 million by 2020.
A report from January 30th, 2019 obtained by Bloomberg showed that service-life of initial F-35B short-takeoff-vertical landing jets bought by Marine Corps “is well under” expected service life of 8,000 fleet hours; “may be as low as 2,100″ hours Pentagon test office said in 2018 annual report.
US Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters that the F-35 fighter jet “has a lot of opportunity for more performance.”
“Interim reliability and field maintenance metrics to meeting planned 80% goal not being met, test office director Robert Behler said in new assessment as improvements “are still not translating into improved availability”
- Current fleet performance “well below” that benchmark
- Cybersecurity testing of aircraft in 2018 showed some previous vulnerabilities “still have not been remedied,” assessment says
- Amount of time needed to repair aircraft and return to flying status “has changed little” in 2018; remains “higher than” rate needed to indicate progress as aircraft fleet numbers and flying hours increase, assessment says
- Computerized maintenance tool known as “ALIS” doesn’t “yet perform as intended,” as some data and functions deficiencies “have a significant effect on aircraft availability” and launching flights
- Maintenance personnel, pilots “must deal with pervasive problems with data integrity, completeness on a daily basis,” tester says
- Testing through September of Air Force model gun intended for air-to-ground attack indicates accuracy “unacceptable,” DoD tester said”