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Japan grounds F-35 fighter jets after 1 disappears over Pacific

A Japanese F-35 stealth fighter jet with one pilot on board disappeared from radar while on a training mission over the Pacific on Tuesday night, the defense ministry said. The disappearance prompted Japan's military to ground its remaining fleet of the U.S.-made warplanes.

The stealth fighter went missing about half an hour after takeoff as it flew about 84 miles east of Misawa, northeastern Japan, a ministry spokeswoman said. It was not immediately clear if it had it crashed, and the spokeswoman said Japan's forces were "still trying to search for the aircraft."

The fate of the pilot was not immediately clear. The Self-Defence Forces and coastguard dispatched vessels to carry out rescue operations, national broadcaster NHK added.

Japan grounds its fleet

Japanese news agency Kyodo quoted Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya on Tuesday as saying the country's military was grounding its 12 other F-35As while the disappearance was investigated.

JAPAN-POLITICS-DEFENCE
An F-35 fighter aircraft of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force takes part in a military review at the Ground Self-Defence Force's Asaka training ground in Asaka, Saitama prefecture, Oct. 14, 2018. Getty

Japan, a close U.S. ally, started deploying its U.S.-developed F-35As, a fifth-generation fighter jet made by U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, in January of 2018.

Each one of the state-of-the-art combat aircraft costs more than $90 million.

According to Kyodo, Japan has plans to purchase and deploy 105 F-35As in the coming years.  

Previous problems with the F-35

On Sept. 28, a U.S. Marines F-35B crashed down onto an uninhabited marsh island near the Grays Hill community in South Carolina. As CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported, it was the first crash of the U.S. military's newest and most expensive aircraft.

About two weeks later the Pentagon temporarily grounded all F-35 fighter jets in service for the various branches of the U.S. military to inspect the fleet in the wake of the. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fly different versions of the stealth fighter.

Is the F-35 worth it?

The grounding order involved a potentially bad fuel tube and affected more than 250 U.S.-owned jets, as well as nearly 100 that belonged to other nations including Britain. About half the F-35s were believed to have the faulty tube, including aircraft owned by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. 

Most of the planes were back in service quickly after the problematic fuel tubes were replaced.

As Martin reported for "60 Minutes" in 2014, the Pentagon started buying the F-35 before testing it, breaking the traditional "fly-before-you-buy" rule of weapons acquisition in the rush to stay ahead of China and Russia's technological advances.

That rush, however, left taxpayers paying the price for mistakes that weren't caught before production began.

A Pentagon document obtained by "60 Minutes" catalogued the "flawed . . . assumptions" and "unrealistic . . . estimates" that led to a $163 billion cost overrun on what was already the highest priced weapons system in history.