Pentagon Grounds F-35 Fleet After Crash

F-35 fighter jet. Pic MoD

F-35 fighter jet. Pic MoD

The U.S. military has grounded its fleet of F-35s following a recent crash in SC to inspect the fighter jets' engine fuel tubes, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps all have their versions of the F-35, each of which costs about $100 million. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, raised questions on the troubles still facing the F-35 program and its readiness rate of about 65 percent.

"We are actively partnering with the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Program Office, our global customers, and Pratt & Whitney to support the resolution of this issue and limit disruption to the fleet", Lockheed spokesman Michael Friedman said. If the aircraft has good fuel tubes, it will be allowed to begin flying again.

The F-35 program, the most expensive weapon in USA military history, has been marred by delays and cost overruns and other mechanical issues.

During the crash investigation, certain fuel tubes were identified as a potential problem, largely involving aircraft built before 2015.

Inspections were expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

A Marine Corps F-35B was completely destroyed in a crash during training in SC on September 28. The program is estimated to have a lifetime cost of over $1.5 trillion.

The pilot, a U.S. Marine, according to officials, ejected safely.

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Other nations that have signed contracts to join the F-35 program include the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway, according to the Pentagon.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "Safety is our paramount concern, therefore the United Kingdom has made a decision to pause some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure while we consider the findings of an ongoing enquiry".

The grounding news also comes two days after Defense News reported that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has ordered the military services to get readiness rates on four planes, including the F-35, up above 80 percent by next September. Once these are checked or replaced the aircraft will be back in the air.

"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced", Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman with the Pentagon's Joint Program Office, which oversees the F-35, said in a statement.

However there is no going back now.

While its costs per aircraft are coming down there are still questions about how many planes the U.S. can afford and whether it should also buy a cheaper, less capable aircraft alongside the F-35.

In April, a Marine Corps F-35B out the Marine Corps air station at Cherry Point, North Carolina, was forced to make an emergency landing when the aircraft fuel light came on.

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