Today’s Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force depend on the F-35 as the workhorse of the modern American military. The loss of an F-35B over South Carolina will surely raise questions about the entire fleet.
The F-35B model used by the Marine Corps is one of three versions in service. The F-35B is the successor to the AV-8B Harrier jump jet and can similarly take off and land vertically or on a conventional runway. The A model used by the Air Force takes off and lands conventionally and is replacing older model F-15s, while the Navy’s F-35C is replacing the F/A-18 E/Fs in the fleet inventory.
While we don’t have any firm details on what happened, one possibility is that the F-35B was somehow hacked and taken down.
A second F-35 participating in the training mission returned to base without incident.
F-35B Plane Lost After Transponder Turned Off
“The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” the Marines said in a statement Monday.
The $100 million plane belonged to the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Initial news reports stated that the military had no idea where the plane went after the pilot ejected. The military made a widely mocked appeal to the public for information about where the plane flew to, noting it disappeared near Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion located northwest of Charleston. The jet’s stealth characteristics made it particularly challenging to locate.
The plane crashed approximately 80 miles north of Charleston and was located on Monday.
“Members of the community should avoid the area as the recovery team secures the debris field. We are transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process,” Joint Base Charleston said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
The aircraft’s transponder suddenly shut off “for some reason that we haven’t yet determined,” Jeremy Huggins, a spokesman at Joint Base Charleston, told The Daily Mail.
Was the F-35B Hacked?
Some speculated online that Chinese hackers had seized control of the aircraft and remotely flew the plane to Cuba, where China has established a military presence.
South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace raised questions about why such a sophisticated plane would just vanish.
Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein described the F-35 as a “computer that happens to fly.”
In 2018, Popular Mechanics published an article titled “The F-35’s Greatest Vulnerability Isn’t Enemy Weapons. It’s Being Hacked.” The article noted the aircraft’s Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, which keeps track of individual aircraft issues could give hackers the ability to hijack the aircraft.
“Every F-35 squadron, no matter the country, has a 13-server ALIS package that is connected to the worldwide ALIS network. Individual jets send logistical data back to their nation’s Central Point of Entry, which then passes it on to Lockheed’s central server hub in Fort Worth, Texas,” Popular Mechanics wrote. “In fact, ALIS sends back so much data that some countries are worried it could give away too much information about their F-35 operations.”
F-35: A Plane U.S. Allies Want
Clearly, all of this is just speculation. At present, the F-35 is considered one of the best – if not the best – fighter on Earth.
And with nations around the world lining up to buy the 5th generation fighter, it stands to reason we will find out quickly what the issue was and it will be corrected.
The F-35 – and warplanes like it – are some of the most sophisticated pieces of technology on the planet, and are clearly not perfect.
John Rossomando is a defense and counterterrorism analyst and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, The National Interest, National Review Online, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award for his reporting.