Checkpoint Asia

US Reluctantly Admits Russia and China Aren’t Looking for the Lost F-35

The spectacle of self-delusion comes to an end

Editor’s note: One to file under what happens when you swallow your own propaganda. As soon sa the Japanese F-35 was lost over the Pacific, the media in the US right away started speculating that China and Russia were salivating over the prospect of getting to the airplane first. What a great spectacle of self-delusion and self-congratulation that was. To so readily believe the Russians and the Chinese were so hungry for America’s trash. But if a plane crashes in an ocean it ends up in pieces and its electronics are fried. Why would either of the two undertake a costly, uncertain and humiliating mission for that?

F-35s electronics are very very advanced — they are also very very buggy and ridden with problems. The jury is still out if they are even a net benefit to the plane or a hindrance. In all other respects the plane isn’t particularly revolutionary as a warplane. In fact because it is supposed to be a replacement for everything from A-10s to F-16s it is notoriously unspecialized and unoptimized for any one role. It is a dead-end in warplane development that Russia and China if they are smart will never follow, but will stick to straightforward, cheap, specialized planes.

The reason the “Joint Strike Fighter” ever made sense was never technical but political. In the 1990s when the F-35 program got rolling the US as an air power was absolutely unrivaled. There was no need to do anything but keep on doing what the US had been doing through the Cold War — building specialized planes around a specific mission. However such incremental, organic improvement was never going to see enough money thrown Pentagon’s way so a scheme was hatched to sell Washington on a new “super plane” that could do everything at once.

Now that was the sort of revolutionary concept that could defend Pentagon’s budget even as the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact had just voluntarily dissolved, and that could get the defense contractors and the generals salivating. So in fact the F-35 is a mission-specialized plane after all. Its primary mission all along has been to ensure money is shoveled Pentagon’s way and on to defense contractors, and at this task it has more than excelled — to the detriment of more conventional missions a warplane is supposed to be capable of.


Speculation about foreign nations racing to find the wreckage of a downed F-35A stealth fighter in the Far East appears unfounded, according to U.S. and Japanese officials.

A search for the lost aircraft, property of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, and its pilot, Maj. Akinori Hosomi, continued Thursday, a JASDF spokesman said.

The plane went down approximately 85 miles east of Misawa Air Base, its home field in northeastern Japan, just before 7:30 p.m. April 9. A search team found parts of the jet’s left and right rudders in the water about two hours later.

It’s the first loss of an A variant of the fifth-generation fighter anywhere in the world. A Marine Corps F-35B, capable of short takeoffs and landings, crashed in September near the Marine air station in Beaufort, S.C.

Media reports have offered speculation about the potential for America’s adversaries to find the plane first and exploit the sensitive equipment and information on it. Assembled in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the missing aircraft was purchased from the U.S., part of Japan’s goal of procuring a total 105 F-35As.

The Okinawa Times newspaper reported Thursday that a Bahamas-registered deep-water support ship, the Van Gogh, was docked at the U.S Naha Military Port. The article suggests that the ship may have been chartered to recover the F-35A wreckage.

Business Insider reported Tuesday on concerns that a foreign power might get to the wreck first.

“Were Russia or China to recover the downed F-35, it could be a major intelligence windfall, especially given the fact that both countries have their own fifth-generation fighter programs dedicated to rivaling the US fighter,” the article states.

Tyler Rogoway, the editor of the defense publication The War Zone, tweeted soon after the crash: “If one of Japan’s F-35s is sitting at the bottom of the Pacific, we are probably about to see one of the biggest underwater espionage and counter-espionage ops since the Cold War.”

However, U.S. and Japanese officials have poured cold water on those fears.

“There has been a lot of wild speculation in the media about other countries racing to find the wreckage,” a U.S. military official said in an email Wednesday. “To date, we’re not seeing it, but we continue to monitor.”

Japan’s Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters April 12 that no evidence of foreign craft searching for the lost plane has turned up.

“We have been watching the activities of foreign aircraft and vessels in the area surrounding our country 24 hours and 365 days, but we have not confirmed any unusual cases,” he said in response to a question about countries such as China or Russia attempting to salvage the plane.

Carl Baker, executive director of Pacific Forum in Hawaii, said foreign adversaries would be interested in the plane’s avionics, surfaces, sensors and computer systems.

However, he said, a covert salvage effort wouldn’t be possible since getting to the plane would require a surface ship and divers and would take some time.

Source: Stars and Stripes

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