Takeshi Iwaya, Japan’s Minister of Defense, has assured acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan that Tokyo will continue to buy more F-35s despite the crash of a Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) Lightning II belonging to 302 Hikotai from Misawa Air Base on Apr. 9, 2019.
“At this point, we have no specific information that would lead to a change in procurement plans,” Iwaya was quoted as saying.
Japan has received 13 F-35As so far, of which four were built in the U.S. and the rest assembled in Japan from American components. The government plans to procure six more this fiscal year. Going forward, Tokyo will stick to importing finished jets, as it is more cost-effective.
But the recent crash could derail these plans, the Nikkei says.
The mishap aircraft, F-35A #79-8705 (construction number AX-05), is the first Japanese-assembled F-35A, and was rolled out in Nagoya on Jun. 5, 2017.
The stealth fighter crashed while on a training flight 135km away from Misawa Air Base. It was flying over the Pacific Ocean then.
Little is known about the crash as both the US and Japan scour the Pacific off the northeast coast of Japan to look for wreckage of the jet. The pilot, who is still missing, had called for the mission to end before his plane went down. Should the incident turn out to have been caused by a defect in the plane, Tokyo could face calls to stop buying them.
According to the Defense Ministry, five of Japan’s 13 F-35As have been involved in seven emergency landings between June 2017 and January 2019. Two of the incidents involved faults in the plane that later crashed. Four of the planes that experienced problems had been assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, under a partnership with Lockheed Martin. The other jet was made in the US.
“Unplanned returns to base were made after the planes reported issues with systems relating to fuel, hydraulics and other parts,” Japanese daily Mainichi quoted Iwaya as saying. “Excluding one case of an error by the aircraft’s monitoring systems, the remaining six saw the fighters inspected and parts replaced before they were confirmed safe.”
While the jets were inspected each time to confirm they were safe to fly, the ministry is checking again to see if there might be any links to the accident.
The US has not disclosed details of the F-35’s state-of-the-art technology to other countries, and there are worries that China or Russia could get their hands on the wreckage and unlock some of its secrets, including the jet’s capability to shoot down ballistic missiles. This is among the reasons why Washington is sending a deep-sea search vessel to the site of the incident to help find the wreckage.
If the cause of the crash turns out to involve sensitive information about the plane, the U.S. could be reluctant to share it with even its close ally Japan.
U.S. Air Force Photo / Tech. Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com
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