A state-of-the art F-35A stealth fighter jet that was deployed to the Air Self-Defense Force’s Misawa Air Base last year has crashed into the Pacific Ocean. A 41-year-old ASDF major was operating the single-seat jet. The Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military are still using their aircraft and ships to search for the missing aircraft and pilot.
Why would a cutting-edge, high-tech jet crash? Until the cause of the crash has been identified, it is unacceptable in terms of public sentiments and spending to hastily resume operating these jets and deploy additional ones.
According to the Ministry of Defense, the F-35A that crashed was one of four F-35As participating in a night training flight. The jet disappeared from radar immediately after the major operating the plane told the others over the radio to abort the drill. It is believed that he was unable to eject.
The jet had made emergency landings twice in the past due to problems with its cooling system. Did a problem with the aircraft lead to the crash? Or is there a possibility that pilot error or a sudden change in his physical condition caused the crash? Questions continue to arise.
The search operations for the major and the aircraft need to be accelerated to identify the cause of the accident. The recovery of the jet’s flight recorder is indispensable. Although the jet crashed in waters that reach depths of around 1,500 meters, efforts need to be made to recover the flight recorder.
The F-35 was developed by the U.S. and eight other countries, including the U.K., the Netherlands, and Italy. The F-35A is the standard model for operation on land-based runways, and the F-35B and the F-35C can be operated on ships. The F-35 is increasingly being deployed across the globe, primarily by allies of the U.S.
Japan did not participate in the joint development of the jet but it is purchasing them from the U.S. government under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The F-35A that crashed was assembled in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and carried a high price tag of roughly 14 billion yen.
The Japanese government plans to introduce a total of 147 F-35s for the SDF, including 42 B variants that will be deployed on Izumo-class destroyers. The Japanese people will not approve of the procurement plan unless the cause of the mishap is determined.
The U.S. seems nervous because this was the first-ever crash involving an F-35A. It is worried that other countries will try to retrieve the wreckage of the aircraft, which is said to be a treasure trove of military secrets.
As the fighter’s classified data is encrypted, coordination with the U.S. military will be imperative for Japan to proceed with the investigation. The Japanese side must not cite the classified nature of the fighter jet as a justification for allowing the U.S. military to take charge of the investigation.
The government has grounded the remaining 12 F-35 fighters at the Misawa base. Instead of hastily putting them back into operation, it should try to ease the concerns of local residents.