Two Civilian Vessels Join Search for Downed Japanese F-35
The U.S. government has chartered a privately-owned deep-sea search vessel to help locate the Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-35A fighter jet that went down April 9 during a night exercise off Honshu. The ship, the dive support vessel Van Gogh, will join the Japanese research vessel Kaimei to cover the search area. The fighter is the most advanced aircraft of its kind in the U.S. arsenal, and the wreckage could give near-peer adversaries like China and Russia an intelligence windfall if they should locate it first.
The Singaporean-operated Van Gogh is equipped with saturation diving equipment to support commercial diving operations to a depth of 300 meters. It also carries two ROVs, including a work-class ROV rated for operation down to 4,000 meters. The Kaimei also carries an ROV, and it is also equipped with a multi-beam echo-sounder, a gravimeter, a magnetometer, and lab space for additional mission equipment.
On the night of April 9, the F-35A's pilot sent an abort message indicating that he was ending the mission early. The plane lost radar contact and disappeared at a position about 85 miles to the east of Misawa Air Base. Japanese search aircraft found floating debris and a surface slick on April 10, but the plane's fuselage has not yet been located. The pilot also remains missing, two weeks after the fighter went down.
According to Air Force Times, acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan does not believe that China or Russia will find the aircraft first. When asked whether he was concerned about the possibility on Friday, he said "No, I'm not." Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya echoed his sentiments, saying that there is "absolutely no" possibility of losing the plane to a competing power.
Japan is assembling its own F-35A aircraft to the American design, and the fighter that went down April 9 was the first off the Japanese assembly line. It was part of Japan's first F-35 squadron, which was declared operational just last month.