Friday, 22 November, 2019

Japanese F-35 wreckage found in Pacific, pilot still missing

JAPAN-POLITICS-DEFENCE A Japanese F-35A fighter jet is missing; remaining 12 are grounded
Patty Aguilar | 11 April, 2019, 13:58

A Japanese air force F-35 stealth fighter has crashed into the Pacific Ocean during a night training flight, the country's defence ministry said.

Misawa is the home of the 302 Hikotai (Squadron), the unit previously operating the F-4EJ "Kai", that has officially moved to Misawa air base to operate the JASDF F-35A 5th generation aircraft after retiring its last Phatom on March 26, 2019.

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.

Rescue teams are continuing their search for the male pilot who is in his 40s, according to news site Kyodo. An F-35A squadron with 80 personnel was formed last month at the Misawa base.

The Defense Ministry has suspended flights of all remaining F-35As at the Misawa Air Base for the time being.

Eight military ships and seven aircraft, including a United States patrol plane, were engaged in a search for the missing pilot and jet in an effort to prevent its secrets falling into the hands of Russian Federation or China.

Japan's government has said it plans to buy as many as 142 of Lockheed's F-35s.

Japan started deploying the expensive F-35s a year ago as part of its plan to bolster defense spending and weapons capability to counter potential threats from North Korea and China.

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13 F-35A are now based at Misawa AB, based on Japanese media reports.

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.

There was no word yet on the fate of the pilot on board, Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya said on Wednesday.

The F-35's pilot was a veteran flyer with 3,200 hours of flight time, but had spent only 60 hours in the F-35, the official said.

"Safety is of the utmost importance and very closely managed on the F-35 programme".

The ASDF received the aircraft, created to penetrate enemy defenses by evading radar detection, last May, its spokesman said. A US Marine Corps F-35B crashed in Beaufort, South Carolina, in late September. Lockheed also makes a C version of the fighter created to operate off carriers.

The F-35s are shipped to Japan by Lockheed Martin and assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd at a plant near Nagoya in central Japan.

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