Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Seiji Kurosawa

【#587】Find F-35A Crash Cause and Take Countermeasures

Seiji Kurosawa / 2019.04.17 (Wed)

April 15, 2019

     Around 7 p.m. on April 9, a sophisticated F-35A stealth jet fighter of the Air Self-Defense Force based in Misawa air base crashed during a combat exercise in Pacific waters off Aomori. It is unknown whether the crash was caused by any structural problem or the pilot’s personal problems such as a loss of a sense of balance.
     The ASDF began to deploy the fifth-generation jet fighter as the replacement of the outdated F-4 in January 2018. It plans to procure 105 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs of the short-takeoff/vertical-landing type. The Lockheed Martin F-35 has been developed under a nine-country international project. A Japanese aircraft manufacturer undertakes the final assembling process.
     Any failure to find the crash cause would affect Japan’s national security and have a global impact.

Numerous questions that should be dispelled
     Various problems have accompanied the F-35 since its development stage. Multiple requirements from the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps were accepted to make the fighter bovine. In a test flight stage, a grave defect in the emergency pilot ejection system was reported. Furthermore, software development failures have delayed the development. The F-35 development has not been smooth.
     It has been unveiled that the crashed fighter made two emergency landings in 2017 and 2018 due to in-flight troubles. Are these troubles related to the crash? Has the stealth-oriented design sacrificed flight performance? The cockpit has been computerized to allow a helmet display to provide a 360-degree view. Doesn’t the display trigger an illusion in emergency? The crashed plane was the first F-35A to be assembled in Japan. Weren’t there any problems with the assembling process? These are only a fraction of numerous questions.

Enhance air defense around Japan
     It may be very difficult to salvage the aircraft that sank to the depth of 1,500 meters. However, Japan should quickly find the crash cause and take countermeasures in cooperation with the manufacturer of the jet. This is because the loss of the F-35A’s reliability could affect the aerial balance of power in East Asia. China has deployed the J-20 fighter as the fifth-generation fighter rivalling the F-35 and plans to introduce even the sixth-generation fighter by 2035, according to the Global Times on February 11. Chinese aircraft were involved in more than 60% of the ASDF’s 999 scramble flights in the previous fiscal year. Any vacuum should not be created in air power.
     Meanwhile, I feel that media reports on the F-35A crash lack considerations to the missing pilot. It is a common sense in the world that maximum efforts should be made to search and rescue even a serviceperson prepared to defend the country without regard for his or her own safety, before the cause of the crash is investigated. The crashed jet was not an unmanned plane but an aircraft piloted by a living man who sent the last message before the crash. Any SDF serviceperson should be taken better care of.

Seiji Kurosawa is Secretary General of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a retired captain of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.