The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) confirmed on Wednesday morning local time that a fifth-generation Lockheed Martin Lightning II F-35A fighter jet that went missing during a training exercise off northern Japan has crashed. A section of the missing F-35A’s tail was reportedly found and retrieved from the sea late Tuesday.
The pilot, a male in his 40s with more than 3,200 hours of flying experience, which includes 60 hours flying the F-35A, remains missing.
Search efforts are currently underway and involve a U.S. Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Stethem as well as Japanese U-125A jets, UH-60J Black Hawk helicopters, and a P-3C maritime surveillance plane, next to other assets. Three Japan Coast Guard vessels have also joined the search efforts, according to the JASDF.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The cause of the crash remains unknown.
In a statement, the JASDF identified the crashed F-35A as serial-number 79-8705. Defense News reports that the aircraft was the first to be assembled at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya. As I reported previously, the first locally assembled F-35A was rolled out in June 2017.
The JASDF’s first batch of four F-35As were built in the United States.
The crashed stealth fighter was one of four F-35As that took off from Misawa Air Base for an air combat training mission at 6:59 p.m., Japan time, on April 9. One 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.
The JASDF entire fleet of F-35As will remain grounded for the time being.
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. In January 2018, the JSDF deployed its first F-35A at the base. Pre-delivery flight tests of the 14th F-35A, assembled at the FACO facility in Nagoya, have reportedly also been suspended. As I reported yesterday:
Japan selected the F-35A as the JASDF’s next-generation fighter aircraft in December 2011 with an initial order for 42 F-35As.
In December 2018, the cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved an increase of Japan’s existing order of 42 to 147 F-35 aircraft, including an additional 63 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs, the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft.
The JMSDF JS Izumo, the lead ship of the Izumo-class, is expected to be retrofitted to operate the F-35B from its flight deck. F-35Bs will also be deployed on Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea.
The April 9 incident marks the first crash of a F-35A. An F-35B crashed near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina in the United States in September 2018. The accident led to a temporary grounding of the aircraft. According to an investigation, the likely cause of the F-35B crash was a faulty fuel tube.