Pen­tagon grounds global fleet of F-35s af­ter crash

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON — The Pen­tagon grounded the global fleet of F-35 stealth fighters on Thurs­day so that en­gi­neers could con­duct ur­gent in­spec­tions fol­low­ing the first crash of the costli­est plane in his­tory.

Pre­lim­i­nary data from a Ma­rine Corps F-35B that was com­pletely de­stroyed in a South Carolina crash last month showed a po­ten­tial prob­lem with a fuel tube, of­fi­cials said.

“The US ser­vices and in­ter­na­tional part­ners have tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended F-35 flight op­er­a­tions while the en­ter­prise con­ducts a fleet-wide in­spec­tion of a fuel tube within the en­gine on all F-35 air­craft,” said Joe Del­laVe­dova, a spokesman for the F-35 pro­gram.

He added that sus­pect fuel tubes would be re­moved and re­placed. If good tubes are al­ready in­stalled, then those planes will be re­turned to op­er­a­tional sta­tus. In­spec­tions were ex­pected to be com­pleted within 24 to 48 hours.

Ac­cord­ing to Pen­tagon fig­ures, 320 F-35s have been de­liv­ered glob­ally, mainly to the US but also Is­rael and the United King­dom, as well as other part­ner coun­tries.

Bri­tain said the Pen­tagon mea­sure did not af­fect all of its F-35s, and that some fly­ing mis­sions had been “paused”, not grounded.

“F-35 flight tri­als from the air­craft car­rier HMS Queen El­iz­a­beth are con­tin­u­ing and the pro­gram re­mains on sched­ule to pro­vide our armed forces with a game-chang­ing ca­pa­bil­ity,” a Bri­tish de­fense min­istry spokesman said.

‘Ready and pre­pared’

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary said it was tak­ing ad­di­tional pre­cau­tions and con­duct­ing tests on its ver­sion of the F-35, known as the F-35I, which has Is­raelide­vel­oped weapons and avion­ics sys­tems.

But if the planes are “re­quired for op­er­a­tional ac­tion, the F-35I air­craft are ready and pre­pared”, a state­ment said.

On Sept 28, a Ma­rine Corps F-35 crashed in South Carolina. The pilot sur­vived af­ter eject­ing. The in­ci­dent oc­curred only one day af­ter the US mil­i­tary first used the F-35 in com­bat, when Ma­rine Corps jets hit Tal­iban tar­gets in Afghanistan.

On Wed­nes­day, De­fense News re­ported that US De­fense Sec­re­tary James 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.

The or­der sent rip­ples through the Pen­tagon, where of­fi­cials have for years be­moaned a gen­eral lack of readi­ness for key equip­ment.

Launched in the 1990s, the F-35 pro­gram is con­sid­ered the most ex­pen­sive weapons sys­tem in US his­tory, with an es­ti­mated cost of some $400 bil­lion and a goal to pro­duce 2,500 air­craft in the com­ing years.

Once ser­vic­ing and main­te­nance costs for the F-35 are fac­tored in over the air­craft’s life­span through 2070, over­all pro­gram costs are ex­pected to rise to $1.5 tril­lion.

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