The advanced F-35 fighter that crashed into the sea off Britain’s aircraft carrier this month has been found, the UK’s National Security Adviser has confirmed.
The Royal Navy and allies have been patrolling the Eastern Mediterraneanfor two weeks at the spot where the £100 million ($133m) jet went to the bottom after the pilot bailed out on take-off.
“My understanding is that the experts know where the aircraft is. Yes, we've located it,” said National Security Adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove. “We haven’t got the plane up yet.”
Under questioning from MPs, Mr Lovegrove appeared to indicate that there had been some Russian activity or interest around the crash site.
But he told the House of Commons defence committee that measures had been taken to protect the highly sensitive and secret equipment on the stealth jet.
Footage from HMS Queen Elizabeth’s closed-circuit TV camera on the bridge has been published on social media showing the F-35 approach the ski jump at the end of the flight deck at very low speed.
As the aircraft tumbled over the edge the pilot immediately ejected and the jet dropped into the sea. The British airman suffered some injuries but survived.
Warships and recovery vessels, along with submarines, were rapidly sent to the site, possibly to the south of Crete.
“The recovery of the flight data recorder and the wreckage are really vital for an accurate investigation to determine the causes of the crash,” Mr Lovegrove said on Tuesday.
“Clearly the swift recovery of the aircraft is what we would like to do and we are working closely with allies on the mechanics of that, but I can't go into too much detail about it for reasons of operational security.”
Tobias Ellwood, the committee chairman, raised the issue of Russia’s state-of-the-art underwater capabilities to track wrecks and map activity on the seabed.
“Is it a concern of yours that the Russians are in the vicinity and are looking for the F-35 as well?” Mr Ellwood asked.
Mr Lovegrove replied: “We are aware of Russian undersea capabilities and you're quite right to identify them as being state-of-the-art."
But he said precautions were being taken to ensure that the F-35’s technology remained confidential.
The skin of the jet would be considered a huge prize as it could allow rivals to replicate its stealth capabilities, or give them an increased ability to shoot them down.
Ministry of Defence officials have been worried about the Russians, who have a naval base in Tartus, Syria, more than a day’s sail away.