An F35 from the U.K. military has crashed into the Mediterranean after the pilot was forced to eject during a routine mission, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), in an initial report from The Guardian.
The pilot was immediately rescued and a subsequent investigation is already underway to analyze the incident, which happened at roughly 5:00 AM EST. While no other vessels or people were harmed from the ordeal, the F35B Lightning jet is the most advanced in the U.K.'s airpower, and costs roughly $134 million (£100 million). And that's not accounting for the roughly $9.1 million per year invested in upkeep (estimating from U.S. Marine Corp's cost).
In other words, this could be a serious setback for Great Britain.
The UK's downed F35 was among 17 other similar jets aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth
"A British F35 pilot from HMS Queen Elizabeth ejected during routine flying operations in the Mediterranean this morning," said an MoD spokesperson, according to the report. "The pilot has been safely returned to the ship and an investigation has begun, so it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time." The HMS Queen Elizabeth has set a return course for its U.K. homeland at the tail-end of a long deployment operation, which was executed in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Before today's incident, the vessel had eight U.K. F35Bs and 10 U.S. F35Bs deployed aboard. Now we can subtract one.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth has seen active combat operations in the past. Notably, it played a role in strikes against Islamic State remnants in both Syria and Iraq. And, while this incident is an expensive setback for the U.K., it has already agreed to buy 48 more F35Bs from the United States, for a total sum of $8.09 billion (£6 billion) before the end of 2025. While the F35 model of fighter jet has seen an uncommonly long development period, comparatively riddled with engineering errors, the U.K.'s further investment in the combat aircraft is especially relevant as Russia's answer to the multipurpose fighter enters construction. On Monday, Russia's highly-anticipated "Checkmate" combat fighter made its first debut beyond Russian territory during Dubai's airshow. And it's billed as a competitor for the F35, specifically.
Russia's 'Checkmate' might outlast a piloted F35 in a real dogfight
Featuring fifth-generation capabilities, the "Checkmate" also has a single jet engine, is relatively lightweight, and will sell to major international players like the United Arab Emirates, which signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia to jointly develop the new combat aircraft in 2017. And it might be the first nation to have them. But while the "Checkmate" could become a popular fifth-gen alternative to U.S. aircraft for global nations, the Russian Ministry of Defence itself so far is opting for an uncrewed version of the combat aircraft. Uncrewed aircraft have the distinct advantage of being far more impervious to "G-forces" from tight turns and high changes in momentum than human pilots. All to say that if Russia rolls out a new air fleet of uncrewed "Checkmate" combat aircraft, scenarios like the U.K.'s crashed F35b be how dogfights between the two end, with one downed U.S.-built fighter jet, and the unmanned Russian one carrying on, with zero battle weariness.
This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.