An F/A-18 Super Hornet assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan went down on Monday morning while conducting routine operations over the Philippine Sea. Both pilots were successfully rescued and suffered only minor injuries.
According to a U.S. Navy statement, the Super Hornet was conducting routine operations when it suffered a serious mechanical failure. When it became apparent that the pilot could not regain control of the fighter, the decision was made to eject.
“The crew was immediately and safely recovered by USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) search and rescue aircraft and brought back to the ship for evaluation by medical personnel. Both aviators are in good condition. Ronald Reagan has resumed normal operations,” the press release reads. It goes on to say that an investigation into the exact cause of the incident is already underway. Thus far, Navy officials have opted not to comment on what may have caused the Super Hornet to fail.
Monday’s incident marks the second aviation mishap for the Ronald Reagan in just the past month. On October 19th, an MH-60R Seahawk crashed into the carrier’s flight deck, injuring a dozen sailors in the process. The U.S. Navy has seen a number of tragic and high-profile incidents in recent years, including a rash of aircraft crashes and even collisions between American warships and commercial vessels.
The USS Ronald Reagan had just finished participating in a massive Pacific exercise called “Keen Sword,” alongside allies from Japan and Canada. More than 50,000 troops from the three nations participated, making it the largest military exercise held off of Japan’s coast in decades. While the publicly acknowledged intent of the drill was to foster greater interoperability between national militaries, it seems clear that the drill was also meant as a message to China.
The United States and China currently find themselves locking horns over both trade and China’s claims over the South China Sea, prompting a near collision between U.S. and Chinese destroyers last month. However, any message the United States hoped to send through its use of the Ronald Reagan in the region has now been rendered moot.
With two crashes during routine operations in under a month, the USS Ronald Reagan’s deployment could be seen as little better than the last rotation of Russia’s troubled aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. After its last deployment to Syria, in which it too suffered two aircraft incidents, the carrier limped back to Russia accompanied by both an ocean-going tug boat and a new moniker: the “ship of shame,” as dubbed by the U.K. Minister of Defense.