Japan SDF Loses an F-35

Well, that can't be good.

US and Japanese officials are doubtless having a minor meltdown over a lost Japanese F-35, presumably crashed during a training flight over the Pacific Ocean. 

Several things jump out.  First, even though the Japanese story is that they have found parts of the plane in the ocean, the prospect of a defection is always a concern.  For China or Russia to get their hands on an intact aircraft would be an intelligence bonanza the likes of which we haven’t seen since the US grabbed the Red October and hid it in North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound.  Second, if the plane crashed, the Russians and Chinese will be racing the US to recover pieces of the wreckage from the ocean floor to reverse engineer key technologies.  Third, the Chinese already probably have some (much?  most?) of the technical design data, so recovering actual pieces of the plane would augment their substantial espionage success in stealing most of what we know about JSF.  Third, hopefully the salvage and rescue operation to come, with Russian and Chinese ships operating in close proximity to American ones, won’t get out of control and we will be lucky to live through it.  Finally, let’s hope the Japanese plane crashed someplace really deep.

Interesting fact:  the Glomar Explorer remained in use until 2015, when it was finally scrapped and broken up.

FILED UNDER: General
Butch Bracknell
About Butch Bracknell
Butch Bracknell is an international security lawyer. A career Marine, he is a father, Truman National Security Project member, and Sorensen Political Leaders Program fellow. All posts are his personal views only, not representing any organization. Follow him on Twitter at @ButchBracknell.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    I don’t have anything to add but wanted to thank you for bringing a new set of interests here.

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  2. Slugger says:

    The USA has been the leader in technology during this era. This leadership was very important in making the USA the most powerful nation on earth. The F-35 is supposed to continue this leadership, but the plane has had some real problems. Boeing’s problems with the 737 also undermine the perception of America. At some point, other nations may turn toward other sources of technology, and we will no longer be on top of the heap. We are not the most populous, we don’t have the largest military, and China and the EU have economies of comparable size. We need to think about living in a world where we are not top dog. The F-35 is a signal of this coming world.

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  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    We need to think about living in a world where we are not top dog.

    How about a world in which we have smart leaders and remain top dog?
    You certainly can’t remain the world’s superpower with a fraud at the wheel.
    I mean…the POTUS thinks this plane is literally invisible.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: W Bush took a decade off “the American Century” and Trump’s pretty well killed whatever was left. You elect Republicans you have to expect a certain amount of this sort of thing.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Slugger:
    We have had an amazing eight decades without a major war. 80 years. And now we are shuffling aimlessly toward chaos and a return to what life was like before Pax Americana. This jet and the 737 are not harbingers of doom, nor is the mess we made in Iraq. The harbingers of doom are Brexit and Trump and the triviality of the Left in its limp response. It’s as if we have some innate death wish.

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    I didn’t see anything on either the Times’ or the Post’s website. Shouldn’t this crash be a bigger deal

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  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    the triviality of the Left in its limp response.

    Yeah…I’ll be stealing that.

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  8. Kathy says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    If I had a dollar for every common misunderstanding about aviation, including my own, I’d be able to buy Vegas twice over.

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  9. @Kathy: That’s super cryptic. What does it mean in this context? Do we need to know something specific about aviation to be concerned about the loss of the aircraft and security implications?

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  10. Mister Bluster says:

    @MarkedMan:..bigger deal…
    Did you mean New York Times?

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  11. steve says:

    Not entirely relevant, but this does remind me of a group of woodworkers that my son worked with many years ago. Several of them belonged to SAC when they were enlisted and they had the best, and kind of terrifying, stories about SAC losing and mishandling stuff. Many instances of nuclear weapons either lost or mishandled. Instances that were never documented. Of course back then that stuff was mostly covered up so we never knew.

    Steve

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  12. Kathy says:

    @Butch Bracknell:

    Well, it helps to know a little about aviation to gauge the causes of an airplane accident.

    But what I meant, is that Trump’s idiotic belief that the plane is literally invisible, like Wonder Woman’s jet in the comics and cartoons, is not the most idiotic thing I’ve heard in connection with aviation, especially of late.

    For example, the notion that modern commercial airplanes “fly themselves.” Look at any picture of any modern aircraft cockpit, and ask yourself why are all those controls necessary if the plane “flies itself.”

    Things like that. Spoken mostly out of ignorance in what is, I admit, an arcane area.

    For the record, stupidest thing I’ve ever said about aviation: “Sure, I could get any plane to take off,” around age 11. I understood the basics of how lift works, how pulling back on the control column/joystick gets the nose up, what the flaps do, and a few other things. But that doesn’t qualify me to attempt take off on a plane.

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  13. Simon says:

    F35 US military’s answer to Boeing 737 Max.
    Seriously don’t flatter yourself mate. The Chinese are not interested in such a flawed piece of crap that falls out of the sky by itself. If China’s J-20 is a copy of the F35 then why is the J-20 has no such problem and is in operation for a number of years while Japan only declare F35 operational just a week ago? If the Chinese did copied it would have been from a blue print of a superior design that the F35 was suppose to be but has now downgraded to this turkey.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    First, even though the Japanese story is that they have found parts of the plane in the ocean, the prospect of a defection is always a concern. For China or Russia to get their hands on an intact aircraft would be an intelligence bonanza the likes of which we haven’t seen since the US grabbed the Red October and hid it in North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound.

    If our dominance depends so much on these planes, why are we selling them to anyone, even our allies?

    We have enough problems with our own security, without trusting to others. Let them eat F-22s or something.

    (I don’t know what I accidentally typed to get “eat” where I meant “have”, but if my iPad wants to correct me into Marie Antoinette, who am I to argue?)

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  15. Selling military hardware via FMS is a key component of our foreign policy. The price per unit to the US is predicated in part on a business case accounting for sales to foreign partners. Newsflash: we do this all the time and fairly carefully control the end users and retransfer rights. Situation normal: we were reselling Abrams tanks within a year of fielding them to the Army and Marines.

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  16. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The harbingers of doom are Brexit and Trump and the triviality of the Left in its limp response. It’s as if we have some innate death wish.

    Out of curiosity, do you mean “we” as the left, or as humanity?

    I think humanity is a lot like deer. Without a predator (perhaps people living nearby would prefer not to have a pack of wolves in the forest abutting a suburb), deer will eat and breed and outstrip their environment and run out of food on the winter and die horrible deaths from an environmental catastrophe of their own making, because each individual deer is pursuing its self-interest.

    This is my explanation for global warming, Donald Trump, antibiotic resistant bacteria, libertarianism, transnational corporations, drug addiction, drug trade and autotuning in modern pop music.

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  17. gVOR08 says:

    The Ars Technica story reports the crash site as in the Pacific east of it’s base at a water depth of 1500 meters. The Japanese are likely mostly worried about the loss of their pilot and a 90 million dollar asset representing 1/13th of their now grounded F-35 fleet.

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  18. Gustopher says:

    @Butch Bracknell: It’s common, but is it a good idea?

    If I recall correctly, the Soviet Union was not selling the Firefox to their allies, which made it dramatically harder for us to get our hands on one. Plus, you had to think in Russian to fire the weapons.

    In the real world, we aren’t selling nuclear weapons to our allies. The consequences there are greater, of course (triggering a nuclear holocaust via mutually assured destruction), but I’m wondering if potentially losing our ability to quickly gain air superiority is a bad enough consequence to make it not worth the risk of selling our most advanced fighters.

    Tanks seem less problematic. Without air superiority, they are vulnerable. Fighters seem like the top tech prize in conventional warfare.

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  19. Teve says:

    @Gustopher:

    I think humanity is a lot like deer. Without a predator (perhaps people living nearby would prefer not to have a pack of wolves in the forest abutting a suburb), deer will eat and breed and outstrip their environment and run out of food on the winter and die horrible deaths from an environmental catastrophe of their own making, because each individual deer is pursuing its self-interest.

    This is my explanation for global warming, Donald Trump, antibiotic resistant bacteria, libertarianism, transnational corporations, drug addiction, drug trade and autotuning in modern pop music.

    I think this is the solution to Fermi’s Paradox.

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  20. An Interested Party says:

    Good grief, I do hope this post was fully or partially meant in jest…if the future of America depends on whether or not the Russians and the Chinese find the remains of this plane, then we’re a lot more screwed than even the most negatively pessimistic person thinks…

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  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Good point, and it helps deflect my theory that people are just evil; a service for which I am sure that some people are grateful.

    The explanation for autotuning is simpler, at least in my mind: most people are not particularly good at holding pitch when they sing. According to my voice teacher in grad school, the ability is really pretty rare.

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  22. Matt says:

    @Gustopher: Holy crap I had forgotten about that movie.

    A fighter is just one piece of the air superiority puzzle. As for the fighter the airframe isn’t as important as all the other stuff attached (avionics/sensors/databusses/coatings/etc).

    @Butch Bracknell: Are they selling them with all the latest gizmos?

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