US Navy Rushes to Salvage Remnants of F-35 That Crashed in South China Sea Before PRC Does

© REUTERS / US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Fenaroli/HandoutRessuply mission
Ressuply mission - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.01.2022
A Navy F-35C crashed into the deck of the USS Carl Vinson while attempting a landing during operations in the South China Sea on Monday, with the pilot ejecting safely but sustaining injuries. Six members of the carrier’s crew were also injured. The stealth jet’s remains were said to have plunged overboard and sunk.
The US Navy is rushing to retrieve what’s left of the F-35C that fell into the South China Sea after impacting its carrier, just in case the People’s Republic of China seeks to claim it.
“The US Navy is making recovery operations arrangements for the F-35C aircraft involved in the mishap aboard USS Carl Vinson,” a spokesman from the US 7th Fleet, whose area of responsibility includes most of the Indo-Pacific region, told CNN.
While the People’s Republic has yet to formally comment on the incident, apart from a few English-language articles in Chinese media speculating on the accident’s implications, CNN fears that the US Navy does not have an unlimited amount of time for its search through the South China Sea’s waters, since “Beijing claims almost all of the…3.3 million square kilometer waterway as its territory and has bolstered its claims by building up and militarizing reefs and islands there.”
“China will try to locate and survey [the F-35] thoroughly using submarines and one of its deep diving submersibles,” Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, fears. He believes that China could make a case for priority rights to recover the aircraft based on its maritime claims.
“Salvaging the plane with commercial and coast guard assets will enable Beijing to claim it is recovering a potential environmental hazard or foreign military equipment from its territorial waters,” Schuster noted.
The US and its regional and global allies do not recognize the People’s Republic’s claims to the South China Sea, with the US Navy and Coast Guard regularly deploying vessels in the region on so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ missions, and sparking Beijing’s ire in the process.
Two US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets fly over the beach of Houlgate, north-western France, on June 6, 2021.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.01.2022
Seven US Sailors Injured After F-35 Jet Crash Lands in South China Sea - Navy
Former Marine aviator and ABC News contributor Steve Ganyard echoed Schuster’s concerns, saying that China likely has a general idea of where the jet crashed, and may try to mount its own salvage operation before the US does.

Schuster thinks the US salvage mission could take ‘months’ to complete, depending on how deep the aircraft has sunk. He noted that the transit time alone by US salvage vessels will be in the neighbourhood of 10-15 days, with the operation as a whole taking up to four months.

Collin Koh, a researcher at the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, doesn’t expect the PRC to risk further worsening tensions with the US by going after the wreckage directly, but said Washington could expect Chinese ships to “shadow, hang around and keep tabs on any such American salvage and recovery operation.”
Monday’s incident was the third time that an F-35 has crashed into the sea. In November, an F-35B aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier plunged into the Mediterranean Sea. A recovery operation was completed in December. Before that, a Japanese F-35A slammed into the Pacific Ocean in 2019, with US media expressing concerns at the time that China or even Russia may try to get their hands on the plane’s wreckage. Japan never recovered its lost F-35A, apart from some small components.
If this is. It's not hard to figure out the general area of the accident. Whether USS Connecticut was assigned to guard the USS Carl Vinson or to spy on PLA's SSBNs, there's a lot of potential in this triangle area of Hainan Island, the Paracel Islands and Bashi Channel. - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.10.2021
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Although they have been widely touted by developer Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon for their do-it-all versatility, F-35s have taken flak from some naval experts over their single-engine design - which essentially rules out the opportunity to limp back to base if the engine fails. The stealthy aircraft have also been criticized for their unfathomable $1.7 trillion expected lifetime price tag - which easily makes them the most expensive weapons systems ever conceived by man. As recently as last year, US media reported that the jet still had 10 critical defects and nearly 900 other hardware and software issues which remained undealt with.
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