Crashed Japanese F-35 wreckage found in Pacific, pilot still missing

A Japan Coast Guard vessel and a U.S. military aircraft conduct rescue and search operations at the site where an Air Self-Defense Force's F-35A stealth fighter jet crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, off Aomori prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 10, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) – Search and rescue teams found wreckage from a crashed Japanese F-35 stealth fighter in the Pacific Ocean close to northern Japan, and are scouring the waters for the missing pilot, authorities said on Wednesday.

The aircraft, less than a year old, was the first F-35 assembled in Japan and was aloft for only 28 minutes on Tuesday before contact was lost, a defense official said. The plane had logged a total of 280 hours in the air, he added.

It was only the second F-35 to crash since the aircraft’s first flight in 2006 and could reignite concern about the F-35 having only one engine.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin is competing for orders in Finland and Switzerland against the twin-engined Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18E/F jet.

The accident could influence Switzerland’s decision, but Finland could still pick the F-35 as it is close to Russia, said Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“I would be surprised if there was a common catastrophic fault hidden away in the F-35A,” he added. “It’s pretty unlikely given the large number of flight hours already completed.”

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force's F-35A stealth fighter jet, which Kyodo says is the same plane that crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, is seen at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki Minami factory in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s F-35A stealth fighter jet, which Kyodo says is the same plane that crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, is seen at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki Minami factory in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

CAUSE UNKNOWN

The advanced, single-seat jet disappeared in good weather about 135 km (84 miles) east of the Misawa air base in Aomori prefecture at about 7:27 p.m. (1027 GMT), the Air Self Defense Force said.

“We recovered the wreckage and determined it was from the F-35,” a spokesman said.

Eight ships and seven aircraft, including a U.S. Navy P-8 Orion maritime patrol plane, joined the search and rescue effort.

The aircraft was leading three F-35s on training maneuvers when it sent an “aborting practice” signal and disappeared from radar, Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters.

The pilot, who had 3,200 hours of flying time, but had spent only 60 hours in the F-35, gave no other indication he was in trouble, the ASDF spokesman said.

“We’ll need to cooperate with the U.S. forces and I believe arrangements are being made,” Iwaya said, adding that the cause of the incident would have to be determined.

The crashed aircraft was the fifth delivered to the ASDF, but the first assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, a second ASDF official told Reuters. Japan’s 12 remaining F-35s are grounded for now, he added.

The previous four were used for training in the United States before being brought to Japan, the defense official said.

No other countries operating the F-35 have grounded their stealth aircraft. Britain said it was reviewing the status of its 17 F-35B fighters for now.

Australia is also waiting, the Australian newspaper has said. A spokesman for the Royal Australian Air Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A representative for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd said it had no immediate comment. The company assembles the aircraft at a plant near Nagoya in central Japan. The lost aircraft cost 14 billion yen ($126 million), several million more than one bought directly from the United States.

The aircraft crashed in waters whose depth reaches about 1,500 meters (4,920 ft), making recovery, particularly of its flight data recorder, or black box, difficult, the official said.

Without the device, investigators could study the aircraft’s classified communications and data sharing system for clues, an industry source said on condition of anonymity.

ONLY SECOND F35 TO CRASH

The ASDF received the aircraft, designed to penetrate enemy defenses by evading radar detection, last May, its spokesman said.

Japan’s first squadron of F-35s has just become operational at Misawa, and the government plans to buy 87 of the stealth fighters to modernize its air defenses as neighboring China and Russia upgrade their military forces.

Lockheed said it was standing by to support the Japanese Air Self Defense Force as needed. The Pentagon said it was monitoring the situation.

The crash was the first of the A variant of the fifth-generation fighter. A U.S. Marine Corps short take-off and landing (STOVL) F-35B version crashed near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina in September, prompting a temporary grounding of the aircraft. Lockheed also makes a C version of the fighter designed to operate off carriers.

Japan’s new F-35s include 18 STOVL B planes it plans to deploy on its islands along the edge of the East China Sea.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Jamie Freed in Singapore; Chris Gallagher, Chang-Ran Kim and Takashi Umekawa in Tokyo, and Idrees Ali and Chris Sanders in Washington; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Richard Borsuk and Clarence Fernandez)

A North Korea nuclear test over the Pacific? Logical, terrifying

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS

By Hyonhee Shin and Linda Sieg

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – Detonating a nuclear-tipped missile over the Pacific Ocean would be a logical final step by North Korea to prove the success of its weapons program but would be extremely provocative and carry huge risks, arms control experts said on Friday.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho suggested leader Kim Jong Un was considering testing “an unprecedented scale hydrogen bomb” over the Pacific in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat at the United Nations to “totally destroy” the country.

“It may mean North Korea will fire a warhead-tipped (intermediate range) Hwasong-12 or Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile and blow it up a few hundred kilometers above the Pacific Ocean,” said Yang Uk, a senior researcher at the Korea Defence and Security Forum in Seoul.

“They may be bluffing, but there is a need for them to test their combined missile-bomb capability. They could have already prepared the plan and are now trying to use Trump’s remarks as an excuse to make it happen,” said Yang.

Such an atmospheric test would be the first globally since China detonated a device in 1980, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Tests of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles are rarer still. The United States’ only test of an operational ballistic missile with a live warhead was fired from submarine far out in the Pacific Ocean in 1962.

China was widely condemned for a similar test with a missile that exploded over its Lop Nur test site in the country’s west in 1966.

North Korea’s six nuclear tests to date have all been underground, the most recent earlier this month by far its largest.

“We have to assume they *could* do it, but it is exceedingly provocative,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“To put a live nuclear warhead on a missile that’s only been tested a handful of times, overflying potentially populated centers. If it…doesn’t go exactly as planned….it could be a world changing event.”

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles over Japan’s north Hokkaido region in the past month as part of a series of tests that experts say have illustrated unexpectedly rapid advances.

“They said Pacific Ocean, which pretty much means firing a missile over Japan,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the U.S.-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. “They want to shut us all up for doubting they could build it.”

SERIOUS FALLOUT

While a missile would be the most ideal means of delivery, it is also possible to put a bomb on a ship and detonate on the surface of the ocean or in the sea, the experts said.

Either way, the radioactive fallout could be significant, as well as the diplomatic backlash from around the world. North Korea’s recent missile launches over Japan especially drew stern rebukes from Tokyo and the international community.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called Pyongyang’s remarks and behavior “completely unacceptable”.

Narang said a test high enough over the ocean would limit the radioactive fallout but risks included damage from an electro-magnetic pulse, something Pyongyang has hinted it might employ on an attack on the United States or its allies.

“If it doesn’t go exactly as planned and the detonation occurs at a lower altitude we could see some EMP-like effects for anything in the area. A lot of dead fish too.”

Pyongyang has launched dozens of missiles this year as it spurs a program aimed at mastering a nuclear-tipped missile that can strike the United States, in addition to its Sept 3 nuclear test.

If Kim’s threat materializes, it will be a “tipping point” for China, and may prompt many other countries to demand an “end to the regime,” said David Albright, founder of the non-profit Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

“No one has tested above ground for decades and the radioactive fallout could be terrifying to many,” Albright said.

Other experts said such an atmospheric nuclear test is unlikely for now due to its substantial technical and diplomatic risks.

Joshua Pollack, editor of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Review, said it would be an “end-to-end demo of everything.”

“But I would be surprised if this were their very next move. They have yet to test an ICBM at full range into the Pacific,” said Pollack. “That will probably come first.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Linda Sieg in Tokyo; Additional reporting by James Pearson in Seoul, Nobuhiro Kubo and Timothy Kelly in Tokyo, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

U.S. Navy strike group to move toward Korean peninsula

FILE PHOTO - Sailors man the rails of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, as it departs its home port in San Diego, California August 22, 2014.

By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Navy strike group will be moving toward the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula as a show of force, a U.S. official told Reuters on Saturday, as concerns grow about North Korea’s advancing weapons program.

Earlier this month North Korea tested a liquid-fueled Scud missile which only traveled a fraction of its range.

The strike group, called Carl Vinson, includes an aircraft carrier and will make its way from Singapore toward the Korean peninsula, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity.

“We feel the increased presence is necessary,” the official said, citing North Korea’s worrisome behavior.

The news was first reported by Reuters.

In a statement late Saturday, the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet said the strike group had been directed to sail north, but it did not specify the destination. The military vessels will operate in the Western Pacific rather than making previously planned port visits to Australia, it added.

This year North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, have repeatedly indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming, possibly as soon as April 15, the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founding president and celebrated annually as “the Day of the Sun.”

Earlier this week U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Florida, where Trump pressed his counterpart to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.

Trump’s national security aides have completed a review of U.S. options to try to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. These include economic and military measures but lean more toward sanctions and increased pressure on Beijing to rein in its reclusive neighbor.

Although the option of pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea is not off the table, the review prioritizes less-risky steps and de-emphasizes direct military action.

Trump spoke with South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn on Friday, the White House said on Saturday in a statement which did not mention the strike group.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Richard Chang)

Indonesia, Japan hit by magnitude 6.0-plus quakes 30 minutes apart

A pair of magnitude 6.0-plus earthquakes occurred within 30 minutes of each other on Tuesday.

Both earthquakes were located in the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles apart. Neither earthquake produced reports of significant damage and no tsunami warnings were issued.

According to the United States Geological Survey, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake occurred in the water between Indonesia and the Philippines at 12:38 a.m. local time. A half-hour later, the USGS reported a magnitude 6.2 earthquake deep below the Earth’s surface in the Sea of Japan.

The first quake was centered a few miles southeast of the Talaud Islands of Indonesia, and the USGS reported the tremors caused strong shaking there. While the quake was more than 100 miles away from larger cities, user-submitted data published on the USGS website indicated some people reported weak shaking approximately 200 miles away in Manado, Philippines.

The earthquake was triggered about 13 miles below the Earth’s surface, the USGS reported, while the earthquake that followed in Japan occurred at a much larger depth of 150 miles.

The Japan earthquake was centered about 46 miles northwest of Rumoi and 610 miles north of Tokyo. But because it occurred so far underground, those on the surface didn’t feel its full effect.

The Japan Meteorological Association reported most parts of the country experienced a 2 on its own seismic scale of 0-7, which usually carries only weak shaking and can be undetected by humans.

Strongest El Niño in 18 Years

The National Weather Service’s Climate prediction Center has announced that  El Niño is already is strong and mature and is forecasted to gain strength.  This El Niño is expected to be among the three strongest on record since 1950.

For drought ravaged California, that is very good news.  This strong  El Niño in the Pacific Ocean is becoming even more powerful, setting the stage for an unusually wet winter in California that could bring heavy rains by January,

El Niño is an anomalous, yet periodic, warming of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. For reasons still not well understood, every two to seven years, this patch of ocean warms for six to 18 months according to Weather.com.  

Generally, El Niño doesn’t peak in California until January, February and March, Bill Patzert, climatologist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge said. That’s when Californians should expect “mudslides, heavy rainfall, one storm after another like a conveyor belt.”

Forecasters predict warmer temperatures in the North over the winter due to El Niño with more precipitation of snow and ice as well as possible tornadoes in the South and Midwest.   

Tropical Cyclone Pam Reaches Category 5

The South Pacific island of Vanuatu has been hammered by Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam.

The Island has faced 165 m.p.h. winds from one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded east of Australia.  The eye of the storm passed over Vanuatu on March 13th around 4:05 a.m., the first category 5 to make landfall since the devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013.

Reports say that Efate Island, the most populated in Vanuatu, has suffered extreme damage from the storm.  There has been no confirmed reports of deaths, injuries, or missing.

Port Vila, located on the southwest part of the island, did not get hit by the storm’s eye and was able to stay online throughout most of the storm’s move over the Island.  The last recording sent by a weather station at the port showed almost 4.7 inches of rain from the storm.

Four tropical cyclones are currently spinning in the Pacific including one just off the western coast of Australia.

Largest West Coast Quake Since 2010 Strikes

California residents may have dodged a big bullet.

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck Sunday night off the coast of northern California, making it the strongest quake to hit west coast since the 2010 Baja California quake that measured 7.2 on the Richter Scale.

The quake struck 50 miles west of Eureka, California in the Pacific Ocean at a depth of four miles.  Several aftershocks struck closer to land, including a 3.4 magnitude shock that struck about 16 miles off the coast, but none were centered inland.

Police throughout the region reported no significant injuries.

“My car was rocking back and forth,” Sgt. Brian Stephens of the Eureka Police Department told the LA Times.  “I thought someone was shoving my car back and forth, looked around and no one was there.   Then I realized what was happening.”

Another resident described the quake as almost like ocean waves, slowly rolling and rocking their home but not causing any real shock.

Tropical Storm Sonia Forms In Pacific

Another tropical storm has formed in the Pacific Ocean and is bearing down on Mexico.

Tropical Storm Sonia had formed about 285 miles south of the Baja California peninsula. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 40 m.p.h. and is moving north at 7 m.p.h.

The National Hurricane Center said that a tropical storm warning has been issued from Mazatlan north along Mexico’s mainland. The forecasters expect Sonia to pass south of Baja California before making landfall somewhere on the Mexican mainland.

Heavy rain could hit a wide area and local officials are warning residents about possible mudslides and flash flooding.