Pentagon grounds F-35 fighter jets in wake of crash

The F-35B Lightning II fifth generation multi-role combat aircraft showing its vertical lift fan at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

The Pentagon on Thursday ordered a temporary pause in all F-35 fighter jet flights in order to inspect the fleet in the wake of a crash last month in SC.

The United States temporarily suspended operations for its fleet of F-35 fighter jets for 24 to 48 hours to check for possible faulty fuel tubes in the engines of the planes, after a crash in SC late last month raised concerns about whether the part was to blame.

In a statement, the F-35 Joint Program Office said the USA and its global partners had suspended flight operations while a fleet-wide inspection of fuel tubes was conducted. Planes known to have working fuel tubes installed will return to the skies.

"At this time, the cause of the mishap has not yet been determined", said Capt. Christopher Harrison, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman.

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

The decision involves a potentially bad fuel tube and affects more than 250 US -owned jets, as well as almost 100 that belong to other nations including Britain.

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The inspections should be complete within 24 to 48 hours, Task & Purpose reported, citing a Pentagon official.

Britain, however, said the measure did not affect all of its F-35s, and that some flying missions had been "paused", not grounded. The engines of the aircraft will be checked for suspected faulty tubes and replacements made where necessary.

"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced", according to the Joint Program Office statement.

The temporary suspension of all F-35 flights is an embarrassment given the extraordinary cost of this frequently troubled programme. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, raised questions on the troubles still facing the F-35 program and its readiness rate of about 65 percent. But the problem has already been identified as faulty fuel tubes. F-35s have already been delivered to the United Kingdom, Italy, Israel, Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Norway. If the aircraft has those particular tubes, they will be replaced.

The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps plan to buy a total of 2,456 F-35s, at an estimated cost of $325 billion.

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.

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