Keep China out?How hard is it to salvage the F-35C from the South China Sea

According to a statement issued by the US Navy on Thursday, the F-35C fighter jet that was involved in the uss Carl Vinson’s “landing accident” has fallen off the edge of the carrier’s deck into the sea.Immediately, how to salvage the highly classified F-35C stealth fighter jet from the South China Sea before China does became a hot topic in the US media.It is inevitable for Americans to worry that China and Russia will salvage the F-35 first.Regardless of whether China and Russia will do so, the first thing we need to pay attention to is: can the F-35 that landed in the South China Sea be salvaged?”The U.S. Navy is taking steps to recover from the seabed the F-35C that crashed into the South China Sea after an accident on the deck of the AIRCRAFT carrier USS Carl Vinson on January 24…We cannot speculate on China’s intentions in this matter.”The navy did not disclose the exact location of the crash or plans for recovery operations.Carl Shuster, former operations director of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii, said the U.S. Navy could keep some ships or aircraft in the approximate location of the crash.He predicted it would take 10 to 15 days for a US salvage ship to reach the crash site and about 120 days for the recovery operation.”It depends on how deep the F-35C falls into the ocean.”The average depth of the South China Sea is more than 1,000 meters, and in the southern part of the South China Sea, where US carriers are used to conducting drills, the depth is more than 3,000 meters.According to the US Navy, the AIRCRAFT carrier Carl Vinson has left the area where the accident occurred. Judging from this, the water depth in the area may be quite deep and it is difficult to recover the aircraft in a short time. Therefore, the US carrier gave up the idea of sticking to the spot and continued its scheduled sailing plan.The U.S. website Dynamics said on Monday that the state of the F-35 should be determined before it is salvageable.In 2019, after the F-35A fighter jet of Japan Air Self-Defense Force crashed into the Pacific Ocean, the United States and Japan conducted a massive salvage operation to prevent China and Russia from stealing secrets, but found nothing.In addition to the 2019 F-35 crash in which the water depth was too high, the AIRCRAFT crashed into the sea at a high speed and disintegrating into pieces, so the U.S. decided to give up the salvage operation after concluding that there was little chance that the accident would reveal key secrets of the F-35, including key avionics.The F-35C, on the other hand, crashed over the edge of the deck during the carrier’s landing, and is likely to remain intact because of its relatively low speed.A similar case can be seen in the failed takeoff of a British F-35B fighter jet from the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier last year.Photographs of the vessel taken out of the sea show that the whole body is remarkably well preserved.The British F-35B fighter jet that crashed into the sea is remarkably well preserved.So the F-35C that crashed into the sea this time is likely to be equally well preserved and of very high intelligence value.America’s nervousness is understandable.If the F-35C falls into the sea largely intact, it could easily become a “foreign intelligence prize” for anyone with a way to salvage all or part of it, according to Momentum’s website.”Russia have a small but strong special task submarine force, able to carry out deep sea fishing and underwater spy task”, “China claims almost the entire south China sea is the scope of its sovereignty, and often criticized the United States navy and other military activities in the region, if possible, to salvage this stealth plane, of course, is also interested.”So would it be difficult to recover such an aircraft in the deep ocean?After a British F-35B fighter jet crashed into the sea, the British government was able to pull it out of the sea about a mile below the surface, largely intact, because of similar leak concerns, the report said.Such missions would require specialized deep-sea vessels and specialized submarines that could support such missions, the report said.In 2020, an MH-60s Sea Hawk helicopter crashed near Okinawa and sank to 19,075 feet (6,000 meters) of water.Last year, the Navy used a specialized CURV-21 deep-water remotely operated unmanned underwater vehicle, which can operate at a maximum depth of 20,000 feet, to bring the helicopter out of the water intact.The Sea Hawk helicopter has been pulled from the depths of the ocean in what it claims to be the world’s deepest salvage operation.In the case of the Seahawk, it was so well preserved that even the US military’s accident crew marveled at the fact that the water pressure at 6,000 metres did not overwhelm it.Therefore, it is not unreasonable for the U.S. Navy to be worried about the sinking of the F-35C.But as US experts said, the recovery took a long time. Even though the US Navy had already identified the location of the accident, the salvage team arrived at the site in January 2021, but it was March 18 before the helicopter was finally brought to the surface.From the above salvage experience, it can be preliminarily judged that under the political premise of “preventing leaks”, the US Navy is probably very determined to salvage the F-35C and also has relevant capabilities.However, judging from the operation process, it may be a long process. Us vessels and planes will carry out surveillance missions in the waters for a long time in the future, which may continue to disturb the peace of the South China Sea.(Source: Privy Council No. 10)

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