TOKYO: An F-35 A stealth fighter belonging to the Japan Air Self-Defence Force’s (JASDF) fleet reportedly disappeared from radars on Tuesday, 135 kilometers (84 miles) east of the Misawa Air Base located in the country’s northern Aomori prefecture.
The JASDF said Wednesday it has found what could be debris from the missing fighter jet, according to broadcaster NHK.
The Air Self Defense Force (ASDF) spokesman told Reuters Wednesday that the pilot of the aircraft, however, is still missing. “We recovered the wreckage and determined it was from the F-35”, the spokesman told Reuters. The F-35 was less than a year old and was delivered to the ASDF in May last year, he added, cited by Reuters.
The incident took place during a training flight involving four F-35A fighters. One pilot was on board of the missing aircraft. The missing jet was reportedly the first F-35A assembled at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries facility in Nagoya.
Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya announced Tuesday that Tokyo would ground the JASDF’s whole fleet of F-35A stealth fighters in the wake of the incident.
In December, Japan announced its plans to buy an additional 105 F-35 aircraft to supplement its originally planned force of 42 F-35 jets, with the additional order’s cost estimated to exceed 1 trillion yen (nearly $8.9 billion). The anticipated purchase makes Japan the largest international buyer of F-35 aircraft.
Last August, the nonprofit Project On Government Oversight (POGO) said that senior officials developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the US armed forces — the most expensive military program of all time — are covering up dangerous flaws in the plane instead of fixing them. In particular, the Center for Defense Information at POGO obtained a document showing how F-35 officials were re-categorizing rather than fixing major design flaws to be able to claim they had completed the program’s development phase without having to pay overruns for badly needed fixes.
Moreover, a report on the F-35 last year from the US Government Accountability Office showed that the aircraft still had 111 Category One deficiencies that may cause death, severe injury, loss or major damage and that critically restricted the combat readiness capabilities of armed forces using the aircraft, POGO noted.