The US’ plan to market its advanced F-35 stealth fighter jet in the Asia-Pacific region and even around the world could suffer a blow after Japan’s Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday that a Japanese F-35A crashed, said military experts.
A Lockheed Martin F-35A of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) disappeared off the radar in northern Japan during a Tuesday evening drill. Parts from the warplane’s tail fins were later discovered at sea before Japan’s Defense Ministry confirmed the crash on Wednesday morning, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported Wednesday.
The pilot is still missing.
This is the first time an F-35A, the standard air force version of the F-35, has crashed since an F-35B, the short takeoff and vertical landing version, crashed in the US in September 2018, Reuters reported.
Japan’s 12 remaining F-35As are now grounded, as search operations for the pilot and investigations into the cause of crash are continuing, the NHK report said.
Costing more than $90 million each, the F-35As began service in Japan in January 2018 and the country’s F-35A squadron was just formed this March, Japan’s Kyodo News reported.
Not only Japan, the seller of the aircraft – the US, will also be seriously affected by the crash, Chinese experts said.
Some customers were already hesitant about F-35 purchases because of its high price, and since the crash, buyers may reconsider how many they should buy or whether they should buy any at all, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese air defense expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Some countries were forced to buy the F-35 because it was the only stealth fighter available on the market, Fu said.
Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the entire international project for the F-35 could suffer a blow.
The crashed F-35A is the bestselling version of the F-35 on the international market, and if the crash is caused by technical issues or design flaws, all other countries that bought the aircraft will have to conduct thorough checks, and the planes may be grounded or put on restricted operations, which will affect their combat capability, Wei said.
Many US allies are involved in the manufacture of the fighter jet, and such an incident might raise questions about the reliability of these internationally built parts, Wei said, noting that the US might purchase less of these parts and apply stricter standards when building production lines in other countries.
Some Western reports have speculated that China or Russia could locate some of the wreckage first, which could cause major security problems for the US. But that situation is very unlikely, Chinese experts said.
The warplane is likely to have crashed very near to Japan, which makes a Chinese or Russian search difficult, Wei said, with Fu noting that Japan and the US will make every effort to stop anyone from approaching the crash site.
The US’ deployment and sales of F-35 fighters to its allies in the Asia-Pacific region were beginning to pose challenges to China’s air defense, Chinese analysts said. But with or without the crash incident, it is not a significant challenge thanks to China’s own J-20 stealth fighter jets, they said.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan, South Korea and Australia have acquired F-35s, with Singapore also planning to buy.
Source: Global Times