US stealth fighter suffers millions in damage from bird strike

F-35B Lightning IIs with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, the Wake Island Avengers, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), fly over Wake Island in August, 2018 (AFP Photo/Cpl. Francisco J. Diaz Jr)

Washington (AFP) - A US F-35 stealth bomber suffered millions of dollars in damage after being hit by a bird during take-off from an air base in Japan, the US Marine Corps said in a statement Wednesday.

"On May 7, 2019 an F-35B with Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing aborted take-off due to a bird strike at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and safely taxied off the runway," the statement said.

The pilot was not hurt in the incident, it said.

A damage assessment report has not yet been completed but the Marine Corps classified the incident as category "A", meaning the damage bill is expected to exceed $2 million.

Last month an F-16 fighter jet operating in the United States was hit by a hawk, the US Air Force told a military-focused website.

Photos of the April 17 incident showed the mangled remains of a bird in the landing gear of the plane.

The F-35 program was launched in the 1990s and has cost almost $400 billion, making it the most expensive weapons system ever developed by the Pentagon.

The defense department plans to build some 2,500 of the warplanes in the decades to come.

The F-35B is a short take-off and landing variant of the plane, developed for the Marine Corps. Each plane costs $115 million to build.

In April, an F-35A stealth fighter went down off the coast of Japan, sparking a lengthy search by Japanese and American salvage crews.

Some debris was recovered but the pilot's body has not been found and the US Navy announced earlier this month it was calling off the search.