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Japanese F-35 recovered before China and Russia got to it; search for pilot continues

The first operational Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-35A taxis during an arrival ceremony at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jan. 26, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Deana Heitzman/U.S. Air Force)
April 10, 2019

Parts of a Japanese F-35A fighter jet have been recovered after it disappeared on Tuesday, prompting a joint search mission with U.S. Forces Japan.

The U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem joined in the search efforts in the Pacific Ocean where the jet was last recorded, recovering only some parts on Wednesday while the pilot remains missing, Fox News reported.

Security experts had warned that China and Russia would try to recover the F-35 themselves in an attempt to reverse engineer it, which would be a major security problem for the U.S.

“The general shape of the jet is well-known, as are its performance characteristics so not much to gain there but parts of radar and other sensors would be prime targets for recover and testing/even attempts at reverse engineering,” Royal United Services Institute air combat expert Justin Bronk told Business Insider.

The jet was last seen on radar approximately 85 miles east of Misawa Air Base not long after it and three other F-35As took off from the base.

The cause of the crash is not yet known. Grounding orders have been given to the 12 other F-35s at Misawa.

A U.S. Navy P-8A maritime patrol aircraft from the U.S. 7th Fleet was also deployed to support the Japanese Air Self Defense Force’s rescue effort. The 5th Air Force division is also supporting the mission.

A U.S. Forces Japan statement released Wednesday said, “U.S. Forces Japan will continue to work closely with the Japan Self Defense Forces and Ministry of Defense to assist with search and rescue efforts, as requested. We continue to hope for the safe recovery of the pilot, and our thoughts are with his family and all of our Japanese partners as they conduct this search.”

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told Business Insider “it would not be good” if the U.S. doesn’t recover the jet in its entirety – and quickly.

“Both China and Russia have excellent reconstruction/reverse engineering/copying skills, particularly the Chinese as they are masters at it,” Deptula said.

The F-35 is considered one of the most expensive weapons systems ever, with the program’s projected cost at $1 trillion. The joint strike fighter features stealth abilities, supersonic speed, agile maneuverability, and high-tech sensor fusion features. The F-35 has three variants, one of which is the F-35B variant, the only one capable of landing vertically like a helicopter, making it a staple in carrier-based squadrons.

Each jet has a price of approximately $90 million. In December 2018, Japan approved the plans to purchase 147 F-35s, 105 of which are F-35A variants.

Incidents with the F-35 are rare. The first ever F-35 crash took place in September 2018, three years after the jet was first integrated into the Marine Corps.