Monday, 15 October, 2018

USA military grounds entire fleet of F-35s in wake of crash

F-35 fighter jet. Pic MoD Image F-35 fighter jet is the most expensive plane ever made. Pic MoD
Melinda Barton | 11 October, 2018, 21:56

The South Carolina crash came only one day after the U.S. military first used the F-35 in combat, when Marine Corps fighters hit Taliban targets in Afghanistan.

The three US armed services and worldwide militaries flying the single-engine F-35 all made the decision Thursday to temporarily halt flights while investigators conduct a fleetwide inspection for a faulty part-a fuel tube within the engine-according to Joe Dellavedova, a spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office.

During the crash investigation, certain fuel tubes were identified as a potential problem, largely involving aircraft built before 2015. "If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status".

He said inspections were expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

The wide-ranging grounding of the entire fleet comes after a Marine F-35B joint strike fighter went down in Beaufort, South Carolina, on September 28.

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

The accident marked the first crash of an F-35 in the 17 years since Lockheed Martin won the competition for the fighter jet in October 2001 and teamed up with other contractors to begin production of the high-profile plane.

Military officials said the inspections ordered this week are to help prevent any future incidents.

The Joint Program Office statement included "international partners" in the flight operation grounding, though the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence tweeted they have only "paused some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure while we consider the findings of an ongoing enquiry".

For the F-35, it's not clear yet how many jets will be grounded for the long term.

"From the ongoing investigation, I am glad that the Department of Defense took swift and decisive action to keep the F-35 fleet and its pilots safe", said Turner, who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on tactical air and land forces. The Pentagon didn't make public how many planes are affected.

The F-35 program is considered to be the most expensive weapons system in United States history. In response, all USA military F-35s will be inspected as well as F-35s operated by U.S. allies. The Air Force has 156, the Marine Corps has 61 and the Navy has 28, according to data provided by the joint program office.

However, the inspections are looking at a certain kind of fuel tube that is estimated to be in about half the F-35 fleet, US officials told The Washington Post. Depending on the availability of parts, the fuel tube can be replaced quickly.

The grounding order affects all variants of the advanced fighter jets, including the Air Force's F-35A and the Navy's F-35C.