Japanese defense officials said a search was underway for an F-35 fighter jet after the state-of-the-art aircraft disappeared from radar during a flight exercise in northern Japan on Tuesday.
The country’s Air Self-Defense Force said the stealth jet, an F-35A model, went missing while flying off the eastern coast of Aomori. It said the plane disappeared from radar about half an hour after taking off from the Misawa air base with three other F-35As for a flight exercise.
Japan is one of the few nations, along with Israel, in possession of the American-made advanced stealth fighter jet.
Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters that a search and rescue operation was underway for the missing jet and its pilot. The cause of the mishap was not immediately known.
Iwaya said 12 other F-35s from the Misawa base will be grounded.
Japan plans to buy 147 Lockheed-Martin-made F-35s, most of them F-35As, over the next decade.
Israel was the first nation after the United States to receive the fifth-generation fighter jet, with the first two planes touching down in December 2016. The aircraft were declared operational approximately a year later.
The Israeli military has officially acknowledged receiving at least 14 of the stealth fighter jets.
Israel has so far 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 in the world of military aviation, 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.
Detractors, however, balked at the high price tag for the aircraft: approximately $100 million apiece (the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, says the cost is expected to go down as more countries purchase the F-35).
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.