UPDATE: The wreckage of the missing F-35 fighter has been found, but the pilot is still missing, according to Japanese military officials.
The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) said on Tuesday it lost contact with an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter about 85 miles off the coast of northern Japan.
There are no indications of what happened to the fighter jet. Launched from Misawa Air Base in the northern part of Japan’s main island, participating in an anti-fighter combat training mission with three other F-35As, the aircraft’s last reported location was over the Pacific Ocean about 85 miles east of Misawa City.
The aircraft disappeared from radar about 25 minutes after take-off and no distress signal was received, according to Japanese news service Jiji Press.
Misawa Air Base is home to the JASDF’s 302 Squadron, the first Japanese unit to operate the fifth-generation stealth fighter. The nation’s 12 remaining F-35s have been grounded, according to Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iyawa.
Search and rescue vessels from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Coast Guard, as well as JASDF aircraft, have been deployed to the location where the F-35 was last detected. The aircraft’s single pilot is still missing.
Meanwhile, Air Force Maj. Gen. Eric T. Fick, currently deputy director of the Joint Strike Fighter Program, was nominated for a third star and to serve as the program office’s director. If confirmed by the Senate, Fick would replace Vice Adm. Mat Winter in that post.
On Sept. 28, 2018, an F-35B operated by the U.S. Marine Corps crashed onto an uninhabited marsh island in South Carolina. Two weeks later, the Pentagon temporarily grounded all F-35 fighter jets in service to investigate a faulty fuel tube; about half of the grounded jets were found to have the faulty tube.
Defense Daily reached out to the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office and they did not respond.
Japan plans to purchase and deploy 105 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs — the short take-off and vertical landing variant — in the coming years, at a total acquisition cost likely to exceed $10 billion.