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International relations

Crashed F-35A fighter jet located, US general says

Wreckage risked exposing military secrets if retrieved by China or Russia

The F-35 aircraft, developed by American defense contractor Lockheed Martin, is designed to be undetectable by radar and destroy missiles.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- A U.S. Air Force commander told reporters here Monday that the F-35A stealth fighter that crashed off the coast of Japan had been located, and that recovery efforts were underway. 

"The aircraft's been located. ... It's now in the recovery aspect," said Charles Brown, four-star general and commander of the Pacific Air Forces, in a briefing for reporters in New York.

But later in the day, Colonel John Hutcheson, the director of public affairs at U.S. Forces Japan, contacted the Nikkei Asian Review and said "the aircraft has not been located at the bottom of the sea. The U.S. military is still working with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to locate the wreckage."

Since the Japanese-built jet disappeared April 9, Japan time, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the U.S. military have poured resources into searching for its wreckage, which could expose sensitive American military technology secrets if retrieved by China or Russia.

The F-35, a fifth-generation fighter developed by American defense contractor Lockheed Martin, evades radar and is expected to play a crucial role in the defense strategies of the U.S. and its allies for decades to come. It "can track and destroy adversary cruise missiles today, and, in the future, can be equipped with a new or modified interceptor capable of shooting down adversary ballistic missiles in their boost phase," the U.S. Department of Defense said in its 2019 Missile Defense Review.

The Chinese and the Russians have been eager to acquire information on the tech behind the F-35. Wreckage from the crashed plane could give them access to study the radar-absorbing materials key to the aircraft's stealth features.

The U.S. is working very closely with the Japanese side in support of the recovery of the aircraft, Brown said.

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