Search and rescue teams located portions of the wreckage belonging to the downed Japanese Air Self Defense Force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that went missing Tuesday evening. The search for the pilot is ongoing.

At approximately 7:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday, a Japanese F-35A disappeared from the military’s tracking systems somewhere off the coast of northern Japan. It was one of four F-35s flying routing operations out of Misawa Air Base, where the nation recently stood up its first operational F-35 squadron in March. Japan currently operates only 12 total F-35s, down from 13 prior to yesterday’s crash. The nation has current orders with Lockheed Martin to source a total of 147 of the stealth fighters, making Japan the largest purchaser of the air frame aside from the United States.


The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force maintainers pose for a photo November 28, 2018 during the arrival of the first Japanese F-35A at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega, Jr.)

Search and rescue efforts launched shortly after the F-35’s disappearance, prompting speculation on the internet that the pilot may have veered off course intentionally in an effort to defect with the fifth-generation fighter. However, with three other F-35s in formation with the aircraft, this possibility was never a likely scenario.

Amidst pressing and immediate concerns about recovering the pilot, the discovery of portions of the F-35’s wreckage raises legitimate security issues about wreckage recovery. With both China and Russia working to develop fifth-generation fighters, gaining access to portions of the F-35 could help either nation reverse engineer elements of the aircraft.