Some panic has set in for the United States, the need to find the most expensive fighter jet ever built before enemies of the United States find it first.

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force says the F-35A stealth jet went missing Tuesday while flying off the eastern coast of Aomori. It says 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.

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.

This could be  matter of several countries in the region doing the search.

A US Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Stethem with the Navy’s 7th Fleet are assisting the Japanese air and maritime assets dispatched to find the missing aircraft and its pilot, the Navy said in a statement Wednesday.

Japan has sent out U-125A search-and-rescue aircraft, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, and P-3C maritime surveillance aircraft, as well as three coast-guard vessels to search for the downed F-35, according to The Diplomat.

“We continue to hope for the safe recovery of the pilot, and our thoughts are with his family and all of our Japanese partners as they conduct this search,” United States Forces Japan said in a statement.

The F-35A was being flown by an experienced pilot with more than 3,200 flight hours, including 60 hours in the new stealth fighters. Radar contact with the aircraft was lost while it was about 85 miles east of Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. The Japan Air Self Defense Force has grounded its entire fleet of F-35s in response.

So far, only parts of the missing aircraft have been recovered. The discovery indicates that the plane crashed, most likely marking the first F-35A crash. (A US Marine Corps F-35B crashed in South Carolina in September; the pilot was able to eject.)

While both the US and Japan are committed to finding the pilot, another aspect of the search is securing the technology aboard the advanced aircraft before someone else finds it.

“There is no price too high in this world for China and Russia to pay to get Japan’s missing F-35, if they can,” Tom Moore, a former senior professional staff member with the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted Tuesday. “Big deal.”

“If one of Japan’s F-35s is sitting at the bottom of the Pacific, we are probably about to see one of the biggest underwater espionage and counter-espionage ops since the Cold War,” Tyler Rogoway, the editor of the respected defense publication The War Zone, tweeted.

The stealth fighter was specifically built to give the US advantages in high-end conflict against great-power rivals. Neither Russia nor China has been able to field a comparable fifth-generation aircraft. More here.

*** Update: Iwaya said that the pilot sent a signal to abort the mission, according to the broadcaster. Shortly after the signal, all communications with the fighter jet were lost. Parts of the jet have been located.

The Japanese defense ministry said the male pilot, who’s in his 40s, remains missing.

The fighter jet went off the radar while flying off the eastern coast of Aomori, just about half an hour after taking off the Misawa air base with three other F-35As.

All F-35’s based in Japan have been grounded.

Denise Simon