F-35 Jets: Military grounds entire fleet

U.S. military suspends operations for F-35 fighter jets, citing safety concerns

The U.S. military has grounded its fleet of F-35s following a recent crash in SC to inspect the fighter jets' engine fuel tubes, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

The Air Force has 156 F-35 aircraft in inventory; the Marine Corps has 61 and the Navy has 28. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, raised questions on the troubles still facing the F-35 program and its readiness rate of about 65 percent.

The suspension by the Pentagon is to allow "a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft", the Defense Department said in a statement Thursday. "If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status", the Defense Department said in a statement.

The Italian Air Force has already completed its inspections and, as it did not find the faulty part, is back to normal flight operations, according to two sources.

The F-35 program, the most expensive weapon in USA military history, has been marred by delays and cost overruns and other mechanical issues. The pilot was able to eject safely, but the aircraft was a total loss.

During the crash investigation, certain fuel tubes were identified as a potential problem, largely involving aircraft built before 2015.

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. Because of the ongoing investigation, he said he had no comment on the specifics of the flight disruption.

The temporary suspension of flight operations will also impact global partners, such as Israel, that have the F-35. If the aircraft has those particular tubes, they will be replaced. It represents a step-change in capability but the F-35's complexity has inevitably thrown up problems.

"The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents", said Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman with the Pentagon's Joint Program Office, which oversees the F-35. "We will take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain and modernize the F-35 for the warfighter and our defense partners".

The issue as described by the JPO indicates the issue is believed to come from a subcontractor who supplied the fuel tubes for engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

However there is no going back now.

The F-35 grounding also comes a day after a Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel hearing on Air Force readiness that included the F-35. It promises to be the centrepiece of USA air power for decades to come.

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