The Pentagon is facing pressing questions about how it lost an $80 million plane that was finally found crashed in a field just 80 miles from its base after a frantic 28-hour search.
The Marine pilot of the F-35B Lightning II took off from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, on Sunday – but an unexplained problem forced him to eject.
The plane was flying in tandem with another jet, which for some reason returned to base after the accident instead of following the plane without a pilot.
The second F-35 pilot, who also took part in the training mission, landed without problems, said base spokesman Tech. Sergeant. said James Cason.
The stealth jet’s transponder, which normally helps locate the plane, was not working “for some reason that we have not yet been able to determine,” said Jeremy Huggins, another Joint Base Charleston spokesman.
This forced the base to issue a humiliating call for help in finding the jet – and even set up a hotline for tips, which was mercilessly mocked online. “That’s why we made the public request for help,” Huggins said.
Scorched earth from the crashed fighter jet can be seen in South Carolina on Monday
The F-35 crashed just about 80 miles from its base north of Charleston, South Carolina
The jet appeared to crash through trees before catching fire in the field
He said the plane’s complexity makes it even harder to find.
“The aircraft is a stealth aircraft, so it has different coatings and different designs, making it more difficult to detect than a normal aircraft,” Huggins said.
Meanwhile, it emerged on Monday evening that in 2019 the Pentagon feared the plane could be vulnerable to hacking – which may have caused panic during the 28-hour search mission.
Marine Corps Commander Eric Smith issued a two-day standstill for all aviation units inside and outside the United States, scheduled to take place sometime this week.
No units will be allowed to fly until a two-day discussion on safety measures and procedures has taken place, according to an email obtained by ABC News.
The plane was finally found Monday afternoon in a county just 85 miles north of the base, with the plane’s wreckage lying in a manicured field.
Aerial photos showed debris in a grove next to the field, where trees had been knocked down. There was a large area of blackened, scorched earth in the field.
It is not known whether locals informed the military of the crash, which did not appear to have occurred in a remote region.
A well-maintained farm appeared to be the focus of Monday’s search
The plane crashed in a field just 80 miles from the air base
The picture shows a helicopter searching for the wreckage on Monday
Search and rescue teams can be seen hunting for the plane on Monday
Nancy Mace, a representative from South Carolina, said Monday that she had been informed of the search but described the incident as extremely embarrassing.
She said there were pressing questions that needed to be answered about how one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets could disappear.
“And you know what: They had no answers,” she told local news station WMBF.
“They don’t know if the plane is in the air or under water.” They couldn’t tell me the exact location where the pilot got out or landed.
“And we’re talking about an $80 million jet.” How can it just disappear? And how is the Pentagon asking the public for help in the search?
“It’s just a huge embarrassment.” A few hours later it was confirmed that the plane had been found – but questions remained.
“Joint Base Charleston and @MCASBeaufortSC personnel, in close coordination with local authorities, have located a debris field in Williamsburg County,” the base wrote on X.
“The debris was discovered two hours northeast of JB Charleston.
“Community members should avoid the area while the recovery team secures the debris field.” “We are handing over command of operations to the USMC this evening as they begin the recovery process.”
It now turns out that US defense officials raised concerns about safety issues surrounding the F-35 as early as 2019.
A report from the U.S. government’s General Accountability Office (GAO) warned four years ago that the $80 million plane’s system represented “a backdoor for hackers.”
The jet operates on Lockheed-Martin’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which regulators say can be infiltrated by malware that spoofs the system to secretly enter false information and take perfectly serviceable planes out of service.
Meanwhile, a report from a government regulator warned that the F-35’s weapons systems could be overhauled using “relatively simple tools and techniques.”
Lockheed Martin remained tight-lipped about the crash on Monday, but said in a statement: “We are aware of the accident involving an F-35B from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and are grateful that the pilot was able to eject safely.” “We support the government investigation.”
The military has not released details about the cause of the incident, but the 2019 report sheds light on the deficiencies plaguing the Defense Department’s most expensive weapons system.
POGO, a watchdog, released a report in 2019 showing that nearly every software-enabled weapons system tested between 2012 and 2017 could be hacked — including the F-35.
The agency wrote: “Despite years of patches and upgrades, malfunctions of the F-35’s most combat-critical computer systems continue to occur, including the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) maintenance and parts ordering network; and the data links that display, combine and share targeting and threat information between combatants and intelligence sources.”
“As in previous years, cybersecurity testing shows that many previously confirmed F-35 vulnerabilities have not been addressed, meaning hostile hackers may be able to cripple the ALIS network, steal classified data from the network and onboard computers, and potentially prevent the F-35 from flying could.” 35 from flying or from completing his missions.’
Military officials appealed to the public in online posts Sunday for help finding the plane
A 2017 Director, Operational Test and Evaluation report showed a 26 percent rate of full operational capability across the F-35 fleet.
POGO’s Dan Grazier shared, “The fully integrated nature of all F-35 systems makes cybersecurity more important than for any other aircraft.”
In the report, he noted that the jet has low “fully operational” ratings, meaning it is “rarely combat ready.”
The Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort – from which the pilot took off on Sunday – is about 35 miles southwest of Charleston.
It is home to several 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing units, including Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, which flies F-35B Lightning IIs.
Approximately 4,700 military personnel serve at the 6,900-acre site, which includes a major air-to-air combat area off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia and an air-to-ground combat and bombing range in McIntosh County, Georgia.
It was the home of a decorated Marine Corps pilot who died last month when his fighter jet crashed near a base in San Diego during a training flight.
Major Andrew Mettler was piloting an F/A-18D Hornet when it crashed near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar just before midnight on August 24.
This crash was the fifth Class A aircraft accident in the current fiscal year, resulting in a total loss or loss of life exceeding $2 million.
According to Task & Purpose, it was the first time a Marine Corps aircraft was involved.