Japan Coast Guard Issues Salvage Warning in South China Sea as Navy Prepares F-35C Recovery Operations

January 31, 2022 5:40 PM - Updated: January 31, 2022 8:54 PM
An F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter following a crash on USS Carl Vinson CVN-70) on Jan. 24, 2022.

The Navy is preparing salvage operations for an F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter lost last week, U.S. 7th Fleet told USNI News on Monday.

“The U.S. Navy is making recovery operations arrangements for the F-35C aircraft involved in the crash aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) in the South China Sea,” Cmdr. Hayley Sims told USNI News in a statement.

Though the service did not provide additional details, over the weekend the Japan Coast Guard issued a NAVAREA Navigational Warning on Saturday for salvage operations in the South China Sea.

The notice stated that salvage operations would be ongoing until further notice at the South China Sea coordinates west of the Philippines near where the fighter fell off the deck of USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Jan. 24. The loss of the aircraft occurred as Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) were operating in tandem in the South China Sea.

The classified technology on the F-35 has resulted in major recovery efforts made for any variant of the aircraft that is lost at sea due to fears that Russia or China would salvage the lost aircraft.

The U.K, Italy and the United States mounted a salvage operation last year for a U.K F-35B that crashed into the Mediterranean following a take-off from the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08). Similarly in 2019, the loss of a Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) F-35A in the Pacific led to an intensive search by Japan and the U.S for the wreckage of the aircraft. It is unclear though whether the whole aircraft was recovered but the aircraft was said to have been broken into debris as it crashed into the sea at high speed unlike the other two F-35s which landed into the sea relatively intact.

Photos circulating on social media last week, which were verified by 7th Fleet, show the F-35C, assigned to the The “Argonauts” of VFA-147 Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) aboard Vinson, landed in the water right side up and largely intact before sinking.

Notice to Mariners

It’s unclear what units the Navy will employ to recover the fighter, which could be in waters up to 30,000 feet deep depending on the exact location of where the fighter settled.

The Navy has one salvage ship, USNS Salvor (ARS-52), in U.S. 7th Fleet but the Navy has other salvage and recovery systems that could be installed on commercial salvage ships or offshore support vessels.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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