Salvage work for sunken state-of-the-art US fighter jet could be imminent
The US Navy appears to be launching an operation to recover an F-35C fighter jet which botched a landing on the USS Carl Vinson earlier this month and went overboard into the South China Sea. The effort was hinted at by a maritime navigation alert issued by Japan last weekend, US defense news sites reported.
The alert by the Japanese Coast Guard on Saturday identified an area in the northern part of the sea as the location of a salvage operation. It was issued until further notice.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet last week said it was making arrangements to salvage the jet, but it would not immediately confirm that the operation was already underway when asked about the Japanese alert.
The F-35C suffered a “mishap” when landing on the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier on January 24. It crashed on the deck and fell into the water. The pilot was ejected and later rescued by helicopters, according to the Navy.
Six sailors were injured in the incident, three of whom were airlifted to the capital of the Philippines, Manila, for medical treatment. They have since been released from hospital, a spokesperson for the Navy said last week.
The Japanese Coast Guard’s Hydrological and Oceanographic Department, which issued the salvage alert, told Defense News that the South China Sea in that area goes as deep as 11,800 feet (3.6km).
The US Navy has previously conducted salvage operations from even more impressive depths. Its current record stands at over 19,000 feet (5.8km), set during the January 2020 recovery of an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from the bottom of the Philippine Sea.
After the latest F-35 crash, some Western media speculated that the US may be racing against China to recover the lost jet. Beijing, experts suggested, would be highly interested in reverse-engineering the classified technologies that went into the creation of the $100 million-a-piece aircraft – presumably to compare the real deal against the blueprints that China allegedly obtained through hacking.