A search mission is currently underway for a Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II multi-role stealth fighter operated by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), which went missing over the Pacific on Tuesday.
The news was first reported on local Japanese media outlet, NHK, that an F-35A Lightning II had gone missing after taking off on a training mission from Misawa Air Base on the Japanese island of Honshū. The aircraft departed the base, along with four others, at 19:00 (local time) and its last reported location identified the aircraft in flight at 19:30 (local time), 85 miles (135 kilometres) east of Misawa city over the Pacific Ocean. It has been reported that no problems with the aircraft were highlighted prior to the aircraft going missing.
Search and rescue vessels and aircraft from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Japan’s Coast Guard are currently operating in the area, looking for any sign of the aircraft and/ or its pilot. In light of the situation, Japanese Defense Minister, Takeshi Iwaya announced that the remaining 12 F-35As have been grounded.
302nd Hikotai officially stood up as the JASDF’s first F-35A Lightning II squadron at the end of March 2019, replacing the unit’s remaining Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom II aircraft. The squadron also relocated to Misawa from its former base at Hyakuri, near Tokyo.
In total, 13 F-35As have been delivered to the JASDF. In December 2018, Tokyo announced its intentions to procure 105 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs, the latter having short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities, allowing the Japanese military to operate the aircraft from its Izumo-class helicopter destroyers, effectively converting them into Japan’s first aircraft carriers since the Second World War. In full, Japan will acquire 147 F-35s, making it the second largest operator of the type.
UPDATE (10/04: 11:35am GMT): The Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) has announced that a piece of the F-35A’s tail has been recovered from the water, confirming that the aircraft has indeed crashed. Search and rescue operations continue for the pilot but a high-security salvage operation is expected to take place when the rest of the aircraft is located.
By Khalem Chapman [10/04/2019]