Pentagon Orders Entire F-35 Fleet Grounded

F-35 fighter jet. Pic MoD

The entire fleet of F-35 fighter jets has been grounded to inspect the aircraft for suspected faulty fuel tubes, the U.S. military said.

On Wednesday, Defense News reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had ordered the Air Force and Navy to make 80 percent of the fleet of key fighters, including the F-35, mission capable within a year. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, raised questions on the troubles still facing the F-35 program and its readiness rate of about 65 percent.

Flight operations for the strike fighter have been temporarily suspended as the military conducts a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engines of all F-35 aircraft, a Pentagon spokesman told Task & Purpose.

"If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status", DellaVedova said.

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

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 U.S. Government Accountability Office has projected a total lifetime cost of $1 trillion for the program. The Marine pilot safely ejected from the plane.

Inspections should be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

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The plane, manufactured by Lockheed Martin but including parts made in several other countries, has been sold to a number of nations, including the UK, Japan, Italy, Turkey and South Korea.

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

The F-35 programme has been hit by numerous delays, cost overruns and setbacks, including a mysterious engine fire in 2014 that also led to commanders temporarily grounding the aircraft. Depending on the availability of parts, the fuel tube can be replaced quickly. If the aircraft has those, they will be replaced.

Because the problem is related to a fleetwide engine issue, rather than just in the F-35B models, it appears unlikely that the problem is unrelated to the short-takeoff and vertical-landing capabilities of the Marine's design.

"The action to perform the inspection is driven from initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina", DellaVedova said in a statement.

However there is no going back now.

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

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