US Racing with China to Recover $100m F-35 Stealth Fighter Lost in South China Sea

Screenshot from video showing F35c crash/ Screenshot via Babak Taghvaee on Twitter

The American supercarrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) suffered a ‘landing mishap’ on Monday with an advanced 5th generation stealth F-35C jet fighter, and the expensive and classified plane fell into the South China Sea. Fortunately, the pilot of the F-35 ejected safely and was rescued by helicopter, but seven sailors were injured.

The Navy also reported that the ‘Impact to the flight deck was superficial and all equipment for flight operations is operational.’

Unfortunately, the $100 million carrier jet, packed with the latest technology and advances in radar-deflecting design is now at the bottom of the sea in highly contested waters illegally claimed by China.

A video shows the plane’s final approach but misses the impact which is still heard in background along with smoke being visible.

 A photo then shows the jet in the water, cockpit open, before it sinks.

Some fear that Chinese submarines could be first to reach wreckage“China will try to locate and survey it thoroughly using submarines and one of its deep diving submersibles,” said Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii.

Chinese naval and coast guard vessels also maintain a constant presence in South China Sea waters.

“Salvaging the plane with commercial and coast guard assets will enable Beijing to claim it is recovering a potential environmental hazard or foreign military equipment from its territorial waters,” added Shuster, a former U.S. Navy Captain.

This is the second time in three months that an F-35 has been lost at sea. The first was British F-35 B Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) plane that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after takeoff from the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The wreckage of that plane was successfully recovered in early December during a secret operation with American help. The fear then was the Russian could get to the crashed hi-tech plane first.

Now the U.S. Navy is rushing recovery operations arrangements for its F-35C aircraft while the Chinese military may be rushing its own recovery operations. However, it could take U.S. search and recovery assets up to ten days to arrive.

Meanwhile, despite official Chinese government denials, the People’s Army Navy (PLAN) would be very keen to get its hands on this aircraft as it is steadily trying to build its own carrier aircraft capabilities, which are still behind the United States Navy.

The F-35C is the only stealth fighter in the world able to operate from aircraft carriers with catapults and arrestor cables and hooks.

‘We cannot speculate on what the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] intentions are on this matter,’ a spokesperson for the U.S. 7th Fleet told

However, this still leaves the U.S. Navy with a race to complete a complex salvage operation to keep its most sophisticated warplane, crammed with cutting edge technology, from falling into Communist Chinese hands.  ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank. - - PAULCRESPO.COM

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Sue Nami
Sue Nami
4 months ago

Experienced pilots retiring because of mandatory jab….what could go wrong? Or, maybe this is intentional?

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