Flashpoints

Has Japan’s Crashed F-35A Stealth Fighter Been Found?

A U.S. general says the wreckage has been found; other U.S. military spokespeople deny that.

Franz-Stefan Gady
Has Japan’s Crashed F-35A Stealth Fighter Been Found?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Japan Air Self Defense Forcr

The wreckage of a Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) fifth-generation Lockheed Martin Lightning II F-35A fighter jet that crashed off northern Japan over two weeks ago has been located, according to a U.S. general. “The aircraft’s been located. … It’s now in the recovery aspect,” the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, General Charles Brown, was quoted as saying by the Nikkei Asian Review in a briefing for reporters in New York on April 30.

Later that day, however, Colonel John Hutcheson, the head of public affairs at U.S. Forces Japan, in a statement to Nikkei Asian Review denied that the jet has been located. According to Hutcheson, “the aircraft has not been located at the bottom of the sea. The U.S. military is still working with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to locate the wreckage.”

A U.S. Air Force spokesperson in a statement to Business Insider also denied that the aircraft has been found: “The Japanese Self Defense Force F-35A that crashed on April 9 has not yet been located or recovered. Japanese officials confirmed that some debris from the aircraft was found in early April, shortly after the accident. The U.S. continues to support JSDF-led search and recovery efforts.”

The crashed stealth fighter was one of four F-35A aircraft that took off from Misawa Air Base for an air combat training mission at 6:59 p.m., Japan time, on April 9. The F-35A disappeared from radar tracking systems at 7:27 p.m. April 9 about 135 km (84 miles) east of Misawa Air Base, in the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu.

A section of the missing F-35A’s tail was found on the surface the following day. However, the pilot and the aircraft’s fuselage have been missing for over two weeks now. The cause of the crash remains unknown. The JASDF has grounded its entire fleet of 12 F-35A aircraft and suspended pre-delivery flight tests of the 14th F-35A, assembled at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya. As I reported last week:

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The U.S. Defense Department has reportedly chartered a privately-owned deep-sea search vessel, the Singaporean-operated Van Gogh, to help with the search. It will join the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology research vessel Kaimei. The ship is equipped with a remote operating vehicle (ROV) that can dive to depths up to 3,000 meters.

The JASDF stood up its first F-35A fighter squadron, the 302nd Squadron, part of the service’s 3rd Air Wing, at Misawa Air Base last month. The unit consists of 13 F-35As. The April 9 incident marks the first crash of a F-35A.