Today's D Brief: Marine F-35 disappears; Shakeup in Ukraine; China, US up spy efforts; Speedy satellite launch; And a bit more.

Dude, where’s my F-35? An $80 million fighter jet is missing in South Carolina, and the military is asking the public for help finding it. The pilot of the F-35B Lightning ejected safely into a neighborhood just west of Joint Base Charleston on Sunday, but authorities believe the plane is at least 40 miles north of there, near Lake Moultrie or Lake Marion. 

The F-35B was based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, not far from Charleston. And officials from both bases have asked anyone who knows anything about the stealthy jet’s whereabouts to call (843) 963-3600.

It’s unclear what caused the pilot to eject and how long the jet continued to fly afterward. Social media statements mentioned a “mishap,” which is often military-speak for “crash.” But the imprecise term paired with the fact that no one seems to know where the plane is raises quite a few questions. Adding to the muddled timeline: A second aircraft that had been flying at the same time in the same area returned to MCAS Beaufort safely, according to the Charleston Post and Courier

When asked for clarification, Headquarters Marine Corps told Defense One’s Jennifer Hlad: “We can confirm a mishap involving an F-35B Lightning II jet from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. The pilot safely ejected from the aircraft. We are currently still gathering more information and assessing the situation. The mishap will be under investigation.”

The Washington Post reported that the F-35 did in fact “go down,” and talked to a spokesman who said the fifth-generation fighter jet’s transponder is not functioning. 

“The aircraft is stealth, so it has different coatings and different designs that make it more difficult than a normal aircraft to detect,” a spokesman at Joint Base Charleston told the Post. Read more, here

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson, Jennifer Hlad and Bradley Peniston. (Did someone forward this to you? Sign up here.) Happy birthday to the U.S. Air Force, which turns 76 today. 

Ukraine just dismissed six deputy defense ministers on Monday. The departures comes nearly two weeks after President Volodymir Zelenskyy replaced his military chief, citing a need for “new directions” in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

A government statement did not elaborate on why the half dozen officials were being “released,” but they include one of the chief spokeswomen for the military response, Hanna Maliar. She was on Telegram Monday still sharing details of incremental advances across several fronts in the south and the east. Those advances add up to just over about 100 square miles of retaken territory since the counteroffensive began in June, Maliar said. 

Context: Zelenskyy is visiting the U.S. this week, with stops planned at this week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, as well as a trip to Washington, D.C., for talks with President Joe Biden and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “Zelensky has been seeking to demonstrate that Ukraine is tightening its management of the ministry overseeing billions of dollars of military aid for the war,” the New York Times reported Monday. 

Out of this week’s UN meeting in NYC, “We expect to see other countries stepping up on air defense [and] on ammunition” for Ukraine to show “that they are sharing the burden, our European partners and others, alongside the United States,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday at the White House. 

“The United States supports peace in Ukraine,” Sullivan explained. “But we support a just peace in Ukraine, and a just peace has to be based on the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty.” That means, he said, “you cannot simply rip off another country’s territory by force and you can’t attack civilian infrastructure and try to destroy grain or energy capabilities that are sustaining human life.”

“And so, our job, from our perspective,” Sullivan continued, “is to provide Ukraine with the tools it needs to be in the best possible position on the battlefield so that it can be in the best possible position at the negotiating table.”

Developing: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin is traveling to Germany for the latest meeting of the U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group. The meeting is expected to be the first for Ukraine’s new military chief, Rustem Umerov, who has been on the job for less than two weeks. 

View a variety of battle lines across Ukraine in an imagery collection annotated and published by the BBC, reporting Sunday. 

There are purportedly new and closer images of the Russian naval vessels that were hit in an apparent Ukrainian missile strike last week while in port at the occupied base in Sevastopol. Analysts at the Conflict Intelligence Team acquired the imagery, and they appear to show more catastrophic damage than was believed to have occurred using only post-strike satellite imagery. Details, here

Related reading: 

China is apparently undergoing its own defense-leader shakeup, highlighted by the recent disappearance of Defence Minister Li Shangfu. “Reuters reported on Friday that Li is under investigation over the corrupt procurement of military equipment during his previous role. Eight other senior officials are also being investigated. His fate has not been officially explained,” the news agency wrote on Monday.

Meanwhile: China’s top diplomat is in Moscow for four days of security talks, hard on the heels of a meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jung Un. Beijing says the visit concerns “strategic security consultations,” while Russian media said the trip was preparation “for Mr Putin to make a landmark visit to Beijing soon,” the BBC reported.

And: the U.S. and China are growing increasingly bold in their espionage efforts, the New York Times reports. The main efforts on both sides are aimed at answering the two most difficult questions: What are the intentions of leaders in the rival nation, and what military and technological capabilities do they command?” Read on, here.

Lastly: Space Force sets record by launching a satellite just 27 hours after getting the order. Part of the effort to reduce the time needed to get new or replacement satellites to orbit, the Victus Nox mission “successfully encapsulated a Millennium Space Systems-built space vehicle, mated it to Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle, and completed all final launch preparations in 27 hours,” Space Force officials said in a press release. The previous record, set two years ago, had been 21 days. 

“The success of VICTUX NOX marks a culture shift in our nation’s ability to deter adversary aggression and, when required, respond with the operational speed necessary to deliver decisive capabilities to our warfighters,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command.