(Bloomberg) -- Possible debris from a Japanese F-35A stealth fighter that crashed during an exercise over the Pacific Ocean has been found at sea in what would be the costly jet’s second crash in less than a year.
The plane and its pilot, a man in his 40s, went missing about 135 kilometers (85 miles) off the Japanese coast Tuesday after departing Misawa Air Base on the northeastern corner of Honshu Island, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force said in a statement. A part of what’s believed to the the plane’s tail was spotted floating near where it disappeared, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters Wednesday.
“We will do everything in our power to find the missing pilot,” Iwaya said.
The Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 is considered the most expensive U.S. weapons system. More than 320 of the fighters operate from 15 American bases worldwide, though the Pentagon and Lockheed continue to wrestle with resolving more than 900 deficiencies -- including flaws in the plane’s complex software.
Read more about Lockheed’s F-35 business
The plane was on an exercise with three other aircraft when radar contact was lost about half an hour into the flight, Japanese military officials said. A cause of the crash has not been determined.
“We are aware of the incident being reported involving a Japanese F-35A and we’re standing by to support the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force as needed,” Lockheed said in an e-mailed statement.
A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said the Pentagon was aware of the reports but declined to comment. U.S. Forces Japan said it was supporting Japanese-led search and rescue efforts being conducted on sea and in the air.
A September crash of an F-35B -- the Marine Corps model of the plane -- in South Carolina prompted the Pentagon to suspend most flights for about two weeks to inspect a fuel line investigators believed may have contributed to the incident.
Japan is the largest foreign buyer of the stealth fighters that have also been purchased by other U.S. allies. The most recently purchased fighters will cost Japan 15.3 billion yen ($137 million) each, according to its most current budget.
Japan’s government has said it plans to buy as many as 142 of Lockheed’s F-35s. In March, the Air Self-Defense Force reached its first operational squadron, the U.S. Defense Department said.
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--With assistance from Aoi Fujimoto, Bill Faries, Tony Capaccio, Isabel Reynolds and Kyunghee Park.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jon Herskovitz in Tokyo at email@example.com;Sophie Jackman in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org
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