US suspends search for Japan's F-35 that crashed in April (Photo Credit: Twitter)
The US Navy on Thursday said that it has suspended its search for a Japanese air force F-35A stealth fighter that crashed off Japan's coast last month, after the allies scrambled to locate the aircraft filled with military secrets.
The pilot is still missing. However, Japan's Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya said that his country would continue its search.
The US Navy said in a statement that it was withdrawing after its salvage vehicle, CURV 21, found unidentified debris from the aircraft. It crashed in the Pacific off the eastern coast of Aomori in northern Japan during a night training flight April 9. It went missing about half an hour after taking off from the Misawa air base with three other F-35As.
The Navy was unusually quick in the salvage effort amid air and maritime activity in the region by China and Russia. It dispatched the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem and P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft to join a Japanese search and rescue team.
From April 9 to 17, the US search covered more than 5,000 square nautical miles (17,150 square kilometers) before deploying the remotely operated vehicle CURV 21, which is capable of salvage operation at the maximum depth of 20,000 feet (6,000 meters).
Iwaya told the Upper House Diplomatic and Defense Affairs Committee that the U.S. salvage vehicle recovered parts of a flight data recorder but the flight data were missing. The joint effort using sonar search by the Japanese deep undersea vehicle Kaimei also located and recovered parts of a canopy and other equipment, he said.
Iwaya said Japan's deep sea research vehicle has also withdrawn, but the surface and underwater search was continuing with the participation of Japanese Air Self-Defense Force vessels as well as a private salvage boat.
"We will continue our search and recovery of the pilot and the aircraft that are still missing, while doing utmost to determine the cause," he said.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, and findings could affect Japan's F-35 purchase plans, though officials say there is no change.
Japan started deploying the expensive F-35s last year as part of the plan to bolster its defense spending and weapons capability to counter potential threats from North Korea and China.
Under guidelines approved in December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government plans to buy 147 F-35s, including 105 F-35As, costing about 10 billion yen (USD 90 million) each.