The Americans, extracting the wreckage of the F-35 from the bottom of the South China Sea, proved that they are able to find and raise even very small objects to the surface if they manage to narrow the search area. So it is possible that they will be able to raise the remnants of Russian Zircon missiles from the bottom of the Barents Sea and, perhaps, study the latest Russian hypersonic missiles from the wreckage.
Race for debris
On March 3, 2022, the Americans announced the recovery of the F-35C Lightning II multi-purpose aircraft from the bottom of the South China Sea, many in the Pentagon breathed a sigh of relief. The newest American combat aircraft unexpectedly found itself in a public area, and the Chinese were theoretically also given direct access to it.
Thus began a sort of race to pick up the wreckage first, which the Americans could only use for possible litigation, and the Chinese were given the opportunity to learn about the latest aviation and electronic technologies. On board the lost F-35C were not only technology related to the aircraft itself, but also military, classified communications and data transmission devices, a combat identification system with encryption devices and an on-board computer.
Interestingly, the Americans were in no hurry to raise the wreckage of the F-35. The accident occurred on January 24, 2022, and the DSCV Picasso Special Research Vessel (Search and Deep Sea Vessel) was not dispatched from Okinawa until February 23, 2022. This was a high risk as the aircraft was lost in neutral waters about 300 km to the west.
The Chinese also roughly knew the location of the wreckage, as the accident occurred during an unsuccessful landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. Meanwhile, it is no secret that the Chinese Navy is constantly monitoring the location of American ships.
The authorities in Beijing were aware of the potential area of operation of the American aircraft carrier, especially since after an accident there is always confusion in the methods of movement of the carrier crew and even in the methods of radio communication. The impact of the plane on the deck led to a fire, seven wounded (three of whom had to be taken ashore to a hospital in Manila in the Philippines) and the need to divert planes aboard the second aircraft carrier operating in the region, USS Abraham Lincoln.
The navy was then able to circle around the potential search area and try to find the sunken aircraft, which ended up at a depth of 3 meters.
As a result, the race was won by the Americans, again using a civilian vessel specializing in underwater work. However, US Navy specialists, mainly from the SUPSALV (Supervisor of Salvage and Diving) rescue and diving inspection, boarded the DSCV Picasso, who carried out search work and ensured the safety of the sunken aircraft.
In the end, the American plane was discovered after only a few days of reconnaissance. This means that the technologies for exploration and work at great depths are becoming more and more advanced. After all, this is the second operation of its kind in recent times.
In December 2021, the wreckage of an F-35B Lightning II lost by the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean was discovered. At the same time, they were looking for the plane, fearing not Chinese, but Russian "search and research ships."
In the case of the South China Sea, a ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) with a CURV-3 (Cable-controlled Undersea Recovery Vehicle) was used to work at depths greater than 000 m. This is a robot prepared to work at depths up to 21 m. This vehicle requires a large descent and recovery system, as it weighs 6 kg and is relatively large (000 m long, 2 m wide and 900 , 2,44 m high). This launching system, however, does not need to be custom, which means that the CURV-1,52 can be delivered to virtually any vessel equipped with an appropriate capacity crane and working deck.
The CURV-21 can be steered in all six directions underwater and has automatic depth, altitude and heading controls. It is equipped with a CTFM (Continuous Frequency Modulation) sonar for bottom surveillance (with a range of 600 m), an acoustic transponder detection system (so-called pingers), a high-definition digital camera, a black and white camera and a color television camera. The image from these sensors is transmitted to the surface in real time via fiber optic cable.
For underwater work, a special articulated manipulator with a multifunctional grip is used. It was with his help that specialized rigging and ropes were attached to the wreckage of the aircraft, which were then connected to a crane aboard the Picasso on the cargo deck. He is now due to be transported to the United States, where he will be examined for the purposes of the ongoing investigation.
Will the Americans be able to get the wreckage of the Zircon?
The discovery of the wreckage of both F-35s proves that the Americans can find any object underwater if they roughly know its location. This applies not only to NATO weapons systems, but also to Russian and Chinese ones. Theoretically, maritime law does not prohibit this, unless underwater exploration is carried out in the exclusive maritime economic zone of another country.
The Americans, knowing the coordinates of Russian ranges on the high seas, can search them and extract what is there without violating maritime laws. Previously, this was not done openly, as efforts were made not to aggravate relations with the Russian Federation. However, now the situation has changed, and what was previously difficult to do has become possible, especially since the available technologies allow it to be done.
At the bottom of the Barents Sea, in the area of the landfills, there are fragments of Caliber, Onyx and Zircon missiles. Of particular interest to them, of course, is the wreckage of the Zircon cruise missile. In particular, of interest is the physical and chemical composition of the rocket body material - the fuselage and aerodynamic surfaces, thermally loaded elements, and especially the chemical composition of the fuel.
Also of particular interest to them are the remains (wreckage) of the GOS and not only the Zircon - fragments of the antenna web, possibly surviving blocks, parts of the on-board computer, and much more. Knowing the real capabilities of the GOS of our missiles, the Americans can prepare effective countermeasures.
The Americans are well aware of the coordinates of the targets at the range, where they know where to look for missile fragments.
Accurate mapping of the seabed can be carried out by autonomous submersibles equipped with side-scan sonar that can operate autonomously at great depths of up to 100 hours to a depth of 6 m (for example, the Hugin type of the Norwegian company Kongsberg). So no one will know about the search of the bottom, and after finding the rocket, its extraction is only a matter of proper organization. The starting point for such searches can be the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, which closes the Barents Sea from the north.
It is necessary, ahead of the Americans, to collect everything, even small fragments of missiles, with the help of deep-sea equipment at the disposal of the Northern and Baltic fleets. The work, of course, is costly and time-consuming, but extremely necessary. Otherwise, big problems cannot be avoided in the future.