Too Much Stealth? Japan Grounds Fleet of F-35As After Fighter Jet Disappears in Mid-Air



Japan has 13 operational F-35s, with nearly 150 more on order. The planes are based with the 302nd Squadron at the Misawa Air Base in Aomori, northern Japan.

A Japan Air Self-Defence Force spokesman has confirmed to¬†Sputnik that one of¬†its F-35s has gone missing with¬†one pilot said to¬†be on¬†board. “It disappeared from¬†radars,” the spokesman said, adding that a search for¬†the plane is underway.

Earlier, Japanese national broadcaster NHK reported that an air force F-35A disappeared from radar screens during a routine training flight.

According to the military, ground control lost contact with the plane at around 7:27 pm on Tuesday, about 135 km northeast of Misawa city, during training. The plane is believed to have one pilot onboard.

Over a dozen Maritime Self-Defence Force patrol aircraft and escort vessels are engaged in a search operation, NHK said, with the local Coast Guard also deploying two patrol vessels to help in the search.Ten F-35As were delivered to the Misawa Air Base last last year.

All JASDF F-35As Grounded

Later Tuesday, Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya said that the air force would suspend flights of¬†its remaining F-35As for¬†the time being following¬†the plane’s disappearance, Kyodo has reported.

Tokyo ordered a total of¬†42 F-35As in¬†late 2011, with¬†the existing order updated to¬†include 63 more F-35As and 42 F-35Bs by¬†late 2018, with¬†Japan becoming the second-largest buyer of¬†Lockheed Martin’s fifth generation stealth fighter.

Last September, the US military grounded its entire fleet of F-35s in the wake of a Marine Corps F-35 crash in South Carolina. That incident followed reports in late 2017 that a US F-35 deployed in Okinawa, Japan lost part of its fuselage in mid-air during a routine training mission.

The F-35 program is one of¬†the most expensive defence projects in¬†history, with¬†a projected total cost of $1.5 trillion over¬†its 55 year lifespan. In addition to¬†cost (currently ranging from $89.2-$115.5 million apiece), the plane has been criticised for¬†a plethora of¬†glitches and design flaws which¬†continue to¬†plague it¬†over¬†four years after¬†its introduction with¬†the US military in¬†2015. Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan has reportedly described the plane as¬†“f***ed up,”¬†with¬†President Donald Trump repeatedly criticising it as¬†an example of¬†Pentagon waste on¬†the campaign trail.Last month, a US defence spending watchdog¬†complained¬†that the new F-35s for¬†the US Navy were nowhere near¬†operational status, emphasizing that the plane was “not ready to¬†face current or future threats” and could put US military personnel’s lives at¬†risk.