US fears Chinese submarines will reach wreckage of downed F-35 jet sooner
US Navy rushes to recover F-35C fighter jet from the bottom of the South China Sea after after a plane crashed on an aircraft carrier and fell overboard, taking with it highly classified technology that could fall into Chinese hands.
As a result of the crash of the F-35C, an American fighter sank in the South China Sea. Washington is concerned that submarines from China, which lays claim to the area, may be the first to reach the wreckage that fell from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
The F-35C made an emergency landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on Monday during scheduled operations, the US Navy said. As a result of the incident, six sailors and the pilot were injured, who ejected from the plane before it fell into the sea.
The most advanced U.S. fighter jet, a stealth aircraft worth more than $100 million, is packed with top-secret technology and, if found by the Chinese, would be an intelligence success for Beijing, which claims nearly all of the South China Sea is its own territory. The USS Carl Vinson was on patrol to challenge these Chinese territorial claims and protect international freedom of navigation, according to The Guardian.
The F-35C is a version of the aircraft specifically designed to fly from aircraft carriers. The fighter can collect in flight and transmit information in real time, operate in enemy airspace unnoticed. According to the BBC, this is the first carrier-based aircraft in the US Navy with a low reflection of the radar signal. The aircraft can reach speeds of up to 1,900 km/h with the world's most powerful fighter engine.
Marine experts say it could take more than 10 days for a US rescue ship to reach the crash site, which could give Chinese submarines opportunity to find him first.
“We certainly remember the value of the F-35 in every way,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. “And as we continue to try to get the plane back, we are going to do so, obviously primarily with safety in mind, but obviously also in the interests of our national security.”
At the same time, in Beijing, a ministry spokesman Foreign Affairs Zhao Lijian said the Chinese government has no ambition to find the crashed plane. “I have flagged relevant messages. This is not the first US accident in the South China Sea, he said. “We are not interested in their planes. We call on the country concerned to do what contributes to regional peace and stability, and not to play muscles in the region.”
But as the BBC notes, military experts believe that the Chinese will try very hard to get to the sunken American fighter jet, while the Americans have a rescue vessel that can lift the aircraft, which is at least ten days away. As defense consultant Abi Austin explains, by then the plane's black box batteries will be dead and hard to find. According to the expert, the F-35 is essentially a “flying computer” that receives information from other combatants, processes and gives them information. The Chinese do not have such technology, and if they get the F-35, then they will probably be able to make a technological breakthrough.
Theoretically, the Americans can, as a last resort, not raise the sunken F-35C from the seabed, but destroy it, but, according to military experts, this option is not yet seriously considered.
This is not the first incident involving US military aircraft linked to China. In 2001, a heavily damaged American EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft made an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet pursuing it. The fighter crashed and its pilot was killed. The EP-3 crew members who were lucky enough to survive the crash were detained and interrogated by the Chinese authorities and released 10 days later. Meanwhile, the Chinese military dismantled and studied highly classified EP-3 equipment and intelligence for several months, eventually returning the aircraft piecemeal.
As The Guardian recalls, in November, the British F-35B, version short takeoff and vertical landing, crashed due to loss of power on takeoff from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea. The pilot ejected, and a few weeks later the plane was raised from the seabed.
In April 2019, a Japanese F-35A, a conventional takeoff and landing version, crashed at over 1,000 km/h in the Pacific Ocean, resulting in which the pilot died, and only the wreckage remained.