It was reported last week by Japan’s military that it had lost contact with an F-35 stealth jet. The contact was lost about 84 miles away from the east coast of Aomori prefecture, Japan, in the Pacific. Japan is already looking frantically for the pilot and the plane.
However, Russia and China – both of which have an appreciable naval presence in the region – might find the jet first and the era of US airpower might be over before finding its true potential. According to retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, ‘Bottom line is that it would not be good’ given that Japan or the US are unable to recover the jet quickly.
Tom Moore, an expert on Russia and weapons proliferation, has said on social media, ‘There is no price too high in this world for China and Russia to pay to get Japan’s missing F-35 if they can. Big deal.’
Why is there such a big commotion over an F-35 jet and why are Japan and the US desperately looking for the jet? Basically, if China or Russia is able to find the jet, they will have access to the secrets of the most expensive weapons system in the whole world. Only one F-35 has crashed before, but it happened on the US soil. This is the first opportunity that China and Russia have to look for the jet. Russia and China will be able to develop their own versions of the F-35 by making use of reverse engineering to some extent.
However, a combat-aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, Justin Bronk, has said, ‘The usefulness for Russia or China of recovering some or all of the wreckage would depend on how much damage the aircraft sustained upon hitting the water. The general shape of the jet is well-known, as are its performance characteristics so not much to gain there but parts of radar and other sensors would be prime targets for recovery and testing/even attempts at reverse engineering.’
Russia has a fleet of submarines that are intended for extreme-depth dives and research. Whereas, Japan and the US will be relying on two of the US’s old rescue and salvage ships along with nuclear submarines, not an ideal combination for a rescue mission. What makes this hunt more exciting is the fact that nobody knows for sure where the plane went down. Accounting for the currents, it might be anywhere as of right now.
There are rumored evidence suggesting that China stole plans for the F-35 but even with that knowledge and finding the F-35 that went down, the advanced manufacturing required for building it is something that both countries lack.
The F-35 jet is so crucial for the US because of its networking, sensor fusion, and secure communications. Bronk further elaborates by saying, Samples or the ‘fibre mat’ stealth coating would be sought after. But the jet’s all-important software and programming would likely be hard to reconstruct given not only the likely damage from the crash and salt water in Pacific but also the way that the jet’s sensitive systems are designed to be very hard to decipher and reverse engineer to make it more suitable for export.’
Who wins this race is yet to be determined. We will definitely update you as soon as we have more information available.