WASHINGTON — A US F-35 fighter was completely destroyed in a crash while training Friday, officials said. The pilot safely ejected.
The crash appears to be the first of its kind for the troubled F-35 program, marking an unfortunate moment for the most expensive plane in history.
Speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement, a defense official told AFP that the Marine Corps F-35 had crashed outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina.
“It’s a total loss,” the official said.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said the pilot safely ejected and was being evaluated for injuries.
Unit costs vary, but the price tag of F-35s is around $100 million each.
The crash comes just one day after the US military first used the F-35, which has been beset with delays and cost overruns, in combat. Multiple Marine Corps F-35s struck Taliban targets in Afghanistan.
Launched in the early 1990s, the F-35 program is considered the most expensive weapons system in US history, with an estimated cost of some $400 billion and a goal to produce 2,500 aircraft in the coming years.
Once servicing and maintenance costs for the F-35 are factored in over the aircraft’s lifespan through 2070, overall program costs are expected to rise to $1.5 trillion.
Israel operates 12 F-35 fighters known in Israel by their Hebrew name, the “Adir,” meaning mighty or great.
Israel began receiving the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter from the United States in December 2016. The aircraft was declared operational approximately a year later.
In May, the head of the air force revealed that Israel had used the fighter jets operationally, which the IDF said made it the first military do so.
Israel has, for now, agreed to purchase 50 F-35 fighters in total from the United States, which are scheduled to be delivered in installments of twos and threes by 2024.
The fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the Israeli military, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.