Wednesday, 17 October, 2018

All US F-35s grounded worldwide

The U.S. Marine Corps version of Lockheed Martin's F35 Joint Strike Fighter The U.S. Marine Corps version of Lockheed Martin's F35 Joint Strike Fighter
Steven Clarke | 11 October, 2018, 21:55

The Pentagon grounded the global fleet of F-35 stealth fighters on Thursday, as a result of the first ever crash of the costliest plane in history.

The crash in SC involved an F-35B, which is able to land vertically and costs around $100m (£75m). The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fly different versions of the stealthy fighter.

Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon's F-35 office said inspections "are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours".

"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced", he said. "If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status".

Foreign operators of the F-35, such as Britain or Israel, are also grounding their fighter jets for inspection, according to the JPO statement.

The Marine Corps declared the F-35B operational in 2015, becoming the first service to integrate the joint strike fighter into its fleet.

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

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A day before the crash in SC, another Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II was used in its first US combat mission to strike a Taliban target in Afghanistan. The Marine pilot was able to eject before the crash and did not suffer any serious injuries.

"The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents". The engines of the aircraft will be checked for suspected faulty tubes and replacements made where necessary.

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".

According to data for fiscal year 2017, the most recent available, the Air Force's F-35A models had around a 55 percent readiness rate, well below that target. "So why is there such a disparity between military aircraft, that are brand new, and commercial aircraft?" The program is estimated to have a lifetime cost of over $1.5 trillion.

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. Depending on the availability of parts, the fuel tube can be replaced quickly.

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.

This story is developing and will be updated.

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