• The Navy said the cause of the inflight mishap is under investigation
  • USS Carl Vinson is the first aircraft carrier to deploy with the F-35C fighter
  • This is the second F-35 crash this year

A U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II jet crashed onto the deck of an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea during a routine flight operation Monday, injuring seven sailors.

A statement from the US Pacific Fleet said the F-35 had a landing mishap on board USS Carl Vinson and that the pilot was ejected safely.

The injured sailors were on the deck of the carrier. While three required medical evacuation to a treatment facility in the Philippines, four sailors were treated on board the ship. All of them, including those who required evacuation, were stable. The cause of the inflight mishap is under investigation, the statement added.

USS Carl Vinson is the first aircraft carrier to deploy with the F-35C, the third variant of the single-engine stealth fighter. According to its manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the F-35C Lightning II is the first and the world's only long-range stealth strike fighter designed and built explicitly for Navy carrier operations.

The F-35C is built with a robust landing gear to handle carrier takeoffs and landings, folding wings to fit on a crowded flight deck, larger wings, a slightly larger payload, and a slightly longer operating range.

USS Carl Vinson and its strike group set out from San Diego for the Indo-Pacific region with an air wing of F-35C Lightning II fighter jets aboard last March. The 41-year-old Nimitz-class aircraft carrier had to be upgraded to support F-35s.

The USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is currently engaged in a joint drill with USS Abraham Lincoln CSG in the South China Sea. The former also finished a joint drill with Japan's Maritime Self Defense Forces last week.

Besides the U.S. Navy, variants of the F-35 are also flown by U.S. allies like Japan, South Korea and the U.K.

It is also the most expensive weapon system ever made with a "sticker price" of around $100 million per plane, including the engine, said a Forbes report. While the U.S. Air Force is said to have 283 F-35s, the exact number of fighters in the Navy's possession is unclear.

This is the second F-35 crash this year, the first being a South Korean jet that belly-landed after its landing gear stopped working. The pilot chose not to eject and walked away without any injuries. South Korea grounded its entire fleet of advanced F-35 fighter jets following this.

A Royal Navy-owned F-35B Lightning II jet crashed into a sea during a routine operation in the Mediterranean last November. The pilot ejected safely. The salvage crew had then launched an immediate drive to recover the wreckage of the jet, fearing that Russia might get its hands on the wreck to glean insights into its cutting-edge technology.

The F-35s are prized for stealth capabilities and versatility with the capacity to gather intelligence, strike deep into enemy territory and engage in air duels
Representation. US Central Command (CENTCOM) via AFP