F-35A Fighter's Right Panel Falls off while Flying over Okinawa, Japan

Absence of this part could potentially compromise the aircraft's stealth capabilities
  • Defensemirror.com bureau
  • 12:16 PM, December 20, 2023
  • 1797
F-35A Fighter's Right Panel Falls off while Flying over Okinawa, Japan

An F-35A Lightning II fighter jet from the U.S. Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan, experienced an incident during a routine training flight as its right panel detached while in flight.

Upon noticing the issue, the pilot initiated a landing, and during subsequent ground checks, it was determined that the hexagonal side panel on the right side of the fighter jet, weighing approximately 2 kilograms, was missing. The missing panel is crucial as it covers external connection points for electronic devices. The absence of this part could potentially compromise the aircraft's stealth capabilities, specifically its low radar cross-section.

In response to the incident, a spokesman for the Okinawa Defense Bureau, representing Japan's Ministry of Defense on the island, issued a statement on Tuesday evening. The spokesman urged the U.S. military to take preventive measures to avoid similar mishaps in the future, emphasizing the importance of ensuring the security of U.S. military aircraft operations.

The F-35 involved in the incident is part of a rotational deployment from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska to Okinawa. The F-35A, which lost its right panel, serves as one of the aircraft temporarily replacing the 48 aging F-15C/D fighter jets that were previously stationed at Kadena Air Base until a permanent solution is determined.

Okinawa residents have been particularly sensitive to incidents involving aircraft accidents and falling debris due to past occurrences. Notable incidents include a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion crash on the Ginowan campus of Okinawa International University in 2004, as well as an incident in December 2017 where a window fell from a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter near a school athletic field, causing minor injuries to a child.

This recent incident with the F-35A underscores the ongoing concerns and calls for heightened safety measures to mitigate potential risks associated with military aircraft operations in the region. Authorities on both sides will likely conduct investigations to determine the cause of the panel detachment and prevent future occurrences.

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