Fussa, Apr 14 : Three days after the Japanese F-35 stealth fighter jet disappeared from radar over the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon on Friday confirmed that high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft launched the search operations for the fighter jet and the pilot of the plane.
The fighter jet went missing at 19:27pm (10:27 GMT) on Tuesday as it was flying 135km (84 miles) east of Misawa, a city in north-eastern Japan. It lost contact about 30 minutes after taking off from the Misawa Air Base.
The US Air Force U-2 tactical reconnaissance plane has joined the search for Hosomi and the F-35A Lightning II fighter he was flying when it disappeared just before 7:30 p.m on Tuesday.
The Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) on Friday identified the pilot missing since his stealth fighter plunged Tuesday into the Pacific Ocean as Maj Akinori Hosomi, according to the American military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
Meanwhile, the JASDF on Wednesday said " The Lightning II went down approximately 85 miles east of Misawa Air Base, its home field in northeastern Japan, just before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. A search team found parts of the downed aircraft’s left and right rudders in the water about two hours later.
It’s the first loss of an F-35A, a 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.
Hosomi, 41, accumulated a total 3,200 flight hours, including 60 hours in F-35As, according to a JASDF spokesman. How long the search will continue is undecided, the spokesman said.
The U-2, commonly known as Dragon Lady, delivers critical imagery and signals intelligence to decision makers throughout all phases of conflict, including peacetime indications and warnings, low-intensity conflict, and large-scale hostilities.
The JASDF on Wednesday said "The pilot broke off a training exercise with three other JASDF F-35As but did not otherwise signal trouble with the aircraft before it disappeared.
However, according to reports wreckage from a Japanese F-35 stealth fighter jet has been found on Wednesday, a day after it disappeared from radar over the Pacific Ocean.
“At the request of the Government of Japan, US forces continue to support Japan-led search and rescue efforts with the USS Stethem (guided missile destroyer), P-8A (maritime patrol aircraft) coverage as well as U-2 support,” USFJ spokesman Air Force Col. John Hutcheson said in an email Friday.
The U-2, which first flew in the 1950s, is designed to collect imagery and signals intelligence while cruising at altitudes of 70,000 feet, out of surface-to-air missile range.
Four U-2s from the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron based at Osan Air Base, South Korea, deployed to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, from late January until early March, according to a report in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
A JASDF search team of 11 aircraft, including UH-60J helicopters and U-125 jets as well as Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships and aircraft, began searching the area where the fighter went missing shortly after the incident. The Japan Coast Guard also sent ships to the scene, according to a JASDF spokesman.
“In addition to the Navy and Air Force aircraft and the Navy ship involved in the search, HQ US Forces Japan and 5th Air Force are performing key liaison and coordination roles, processing requests for US support from the Japanese government and synchronizing and de-conflicting US SAR (search and rescue) activities with the JSDF,” Hutcheson said.
“USFJ will continue to work closely with the Japan Self Defence Forces and Ministry of Defence to assist with search and rescue efforts, to include salvage of the aircraft, if requested,” he said.
It is worth noting that U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula in an interview with the Business Insider, expressed his concerns about if Russia or China find crashed F-35A fighter jet first.
“Bottom line is that it would not be good” for the future of US airpower if Japan or the US don’t quickly recover the jet, David Deptula told.
Russia and China may be interested in finding the debris and the plane itself to further explore them.