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A Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter prepares for take-off at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Feb. 17, 2022.

A Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter prepares for take-off at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Feb. 17, 2022. (Justin Marty/U.S. Marine Corps)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – A Marine Corps stealth fighter was damaged Thursday following a precautionary landing at an Okinawa air base, a Marine official said Thursday evening.

A suspected electrical problem prompted the pilot to land the F-35B Lightning II, assigned to VMFA-121 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, at Kadena Air Base without incident at approximately 1:40 p.m., 1st Marine Aircraft Wing spokesman Maj. Rob Martins wrote in a statement to Stars and Stripes.

Kadena Air Base is home to the Air Force’s 18th Wing.

While the fifth-generation fighter was being towed on the flight line, the front landing gear malfunctioned and the aircraft’s nose dropped onto the ground, Martins said. He said the incident caused no injuries. Video from Japanese public broadcaster NHK shared Thursday on Twitter showed the F-35 stopped on a taxiway with its nose gear collapsed.

“The pilot performed as trained and chose the safest option, landing the aircraft safely in accordance with standard procedures,” Martins said in the statement. “Operating our aircraft safely and effectively is a top priority and our aviators take great precautions to ensure the safety of the aircrew and the surrounding areas.”

The fighter was conducting “standard training operations” in local ranges at the time of the incident, Martins said in a follow-up email to Stars and Stripes. After the aircraft landed, it was surrounded by fire engines and emergency vehicles, NHK reported Thursday afternoon.

It is unclear how much damage was done to the fighter, Martins said in his email. He said a “detailed investigation” will be conducted.

“The mishap class will be determined by the investigation,” Martins wrote in the email.

The military defines mishaps by class from A to D. Class A mishaps involve repair costs exceeding $2 million or the death or permanent disability of a service member. A Class D mishap involves $25,000 to $59,999 in property damage and injuries ranging requiring first aid up to missing a day from work.

The Marine Corps has had three Class A mishaps in manned aircraft in 2022, according to data on the Naval Safety Command’s website.

A spokesman for the Okinawa Defense Bureau, a branch of the Japanese Ministry of Defense, said Thursday evening it is aware “the nose of an F35 touched the ground” but is awaiting details.

A spokesman for Okinawa prefecture’s Military Base Affairs Division said it was waiting for information from the defense bureau. Gov. Denny Tamaki had not yet made a public comment on the incident.

The short-takeoff, vertical-landing fighter has been plagued by high costs and technical issues since its inception.

The pilot of an F-35A Lightning II, the Air Force variant, survived a crash at Hill Air Force Base, Utah on Oct. 19. A replacement F-35A costs about $75 million, Reuters reported in July.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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