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U.S. News

‘For Dummies’ guide on how to lose an $80M stealth fighter

By Jake Beardslee · September 19, 2023

In brief…

  • An $80 million F-35 fighter jet went missing over South Carolina Sunday as the pilot ejected and parachuted to safety.
  • After a two-day search, military officials located debris from the jet in Williamsburg County, South Carolina..
  • The squadron commander has initiated a temporary grounding of all aviation units to discuss safety procedures.
  • The Marine Corps has launched an investigation, though few details have been made publc.
Military officials located debris Tuesday from an F-35 fighter jet that went missing after the pilot ejected safely over South Carolina.  US Air Force/Wikimedia

Officials from Joint Base Charleston have located debris from an F-35 stealth fighter jet that went missing after its pilot ejected over South Carolina Sunday.

The pilot, whose name has not been released, ejected and parachuted safely to the ground in North Charleston, according to base spokesperson Major Melanie Salinas. He was taken to a local hospital and is in stable condition.

Military officials appealed to the public on social media for help locating the $80 million aircraft.

“Personnel from Joint Base Charleston and MCAS Beaufort, in close coordination with local authorities, have located a debris field in Williamsburg County,” the base announced on Twitter. “Members of the community should avoid the area as the recovery team secures the debris field.”

The F-35 went missing around 80 miles from its originating airfield, the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The search focused on Lake Moultrie based on the plane’s last known location and trajectory, according to Senior Master Sgt. Heather Stanton.

Congressm Member Nancy Mace criticized the military on Twitter, questioning, “How in the hell do you lose an F-35? How is there not a tracking device, and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?”

Jeremy Huggins, spokesperson for Joint Base Charleston, said because the F-35’s transponder was not working it was necessary to make a public appeal.

“The aircraft is stealth, so it has different coatings and different designs that make it more difficult than a normal aircraft to detect,” Huggins told the Washington Post.

The cause of the pilot ejection remains under investigation. Marine Corps acting Commandant Eric Smith has initiated a two-day stand-down of all aviation units to discuss safety protocols, according to an internal email found by ABC News.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned four years ago that the $80 million aircraft’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) was susceptible to hackers, noting that it contained a backdoor that enables malware to spoof maintenance records. This could trick the system into mistakenly taking perfectly operational jets out of service.

Lockheed Martin, which designed the jet’s ALIS, has provided few details regarding the incident. In a prepared statement, the company said, “We are aware of the mishap involving an F-35B from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and are thankful the pilot ejected safely. We are supporting the government’s investigation.”

The GAO continues to raise red flags regarding the F-35’s weapons systems and its vulnerability to relatively simple hacking techniques.