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What Occurs When a Stealth Jet Ends Up on the Ocean Ground?

WASHINGTON — On Jan. 24, one of many U.S. Navy’s most costly warplanes crashed as it tried to land on an plane provider and sank to the underside of the South China Sea. The $94 million F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is now the topic of a salvage operation.

In a statement issued on the day of the incident, the Navy mentioned seven sailors had been injured when the jet suffered a “touchdown mishap” on the plane provider, the Carl Vinson. It didn’t point out that the aircraft had ended up within the ocean.

The Navy has mentioned little publicly since then in regards to the incident. In response to questions from The New York Occasions, the Navy’s Seventh Fleet mentioned final week that the service had “begun mobilizing models that shall be used to confirm the location and get better” the F-35 concerned within the crash.

Pictures and movies that appeared to have been taken aboard the Vinson have been posted on social media. Public affairs officers mentioned that among the photographs — resembling one of many F-35 on the ocean floor — have been genuine. “There’s an ongoing investigation into each the crash and the unauthorized launch of the shipboard video footage,” mentioned Cmdr. Zach Harrell, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces.

It was solely after a Twitter person posted video of the crash on Feb. 6 that Navy officers acknowledged that the jet had slammed into the rear of the flight deck earlier than skidding the size of the ship and falling into the ocean.

Will the Navy get better its costly jet from the ocean ground earlier than an adversary finds it? Right here’s what we all know thus far in regards to the incident, and what the salvage operation may entail.

Brief reply: We don’t precisely know. We do, nonetheless, have a tantalizing clue from public statements.

On Jan. 29, the Japanese Coast Guard posted a discover informing mariners of ongoing salvage operations in an space within the northern a part of the South China Sea. The discover mentioned salvage operations at a selected latitude and longitude would proceed “till additional discover.”

The U.S. Navy’s Japan-based Seventh Fleet directed questions in regards to the discover to the Japanese Coast Guard, which mentioned final week that the U.S. Nationwide Geospatial-Intelligence Company had requested that the warning be posted. A spokeswoman for the company, which is a part of the Protection Division, directed queries about that discover again to the Navy.

The discover places the salvage website roughly 13,000 ft beneath the floor of the ocean, and nearer to the Philippines than to China.

The Navy’s preliminary assertion mentioned three of the sailors injured within the crash had been evacuated to Manila for medical therapy. The Japanese Coast Guard’s discover mentioned the salvage location was about 320 miles from Manila — which is nicely inside vary of the Vinson’s Osprey tilt-rotor plane that may have transported the injured sailors from the provider to the Philippine capital.

In response to Navy paperwork, the service can carry a wrecked airplane from as deep as 20,000 ft through the use of a remote-operated car the Navy calls CURV-21. Weighing greater than three tons, the box-shaped underwater drone might be deployed from the deck of a Navy salvage ship or a business vessel and managed by technicians on the floor through a cable.

Final yr, the Navy used a CURV-21 aboard a Norwegian-flagged civilian ship named the Grand Canyon II to salvage an MH-60S helicopter from a depth of greater than 19,000 ft within the North Pacific Ocean.

Reached by cellphone, an govt with Volstad Maritime, which owns the Grand Canyon II, mentioned the ship was not concerned within the Navy’s F-35 salvage effort. It’s at present leased to an vitality firm and is working in oil and gasoline fields off Thailand.

The Navy might use one other ship to do the identical job, so long as it has the power to hold an underwater car like CURV-21, which might be used to attach a cable from the ship to the airplane. The ship would additionally must have a crane robust sufficient to carry the wreck off the ocean ground, most likely one able to lifting at the very least 100 tons. Moreover, the ship would more than likely want a big open deck so the wreckage may very well be positioned there.

Throughout final yr’s deepwater helicopter salvage, a Maryland-based firm known as Phoenix Worldwide supplied assist on the Grand Canyon II. A Phoenix govt reached by cellphone declined to touch upon whether or not the corporate was concerned within the present F-35 salvage effort.

We don’t know, nevertheless it’s not exterior the realm of chance, on condition that China has already displayed underwater remote-operated autos of its personal. The true query could be: Can the Chinese language autos operate on the similar depth because the American ones?

On condition that the F-35 crashed with a full plane provider strike group within the neighborhood, it’s potential that the Navy has left a smaller escort warship, like a destroyer, to look at over the crash website. Nonetheless, the Pentagon dismissed the concept that the Navy was in a race with its Chinese language counterpart to tug the ship off the seafloor.

“I believe you possibly can perceive we’re taking all the suitable planning that we have to salvage our plane and we’re going to get better it in a well timed method, as we’ve achieved up to now,” John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, mentioned at a information convention on Monday. “So I believe any query about being in some type of competitors to get better what’s in reality our property is speculative at greatest.”

Motoko Wealthy and Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo.

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