The U.S. military on Thursday grounded its entire fleet of F-35 stealth fighters after one of the jets crashed during a training mission in SC last month, officials said Thursday.
For the F-35, it's not clear yet how many jets will be grounded for the long term.
A Marine Corps F-35 operating from the USS Essex amphibious assault ship recently struck a Taliban target in Afghanistan, the first successful US combat sortie for the jet.
In a statement, F-35 programme spokesman Joe DellaVedova said the checks should be complete by the end of the week, adding: "If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced". In May, Israeli officials confirmed that the country's F-35 "Adir" had conducted two airstrikes somewhere in the Middle East.
The inspections come in the wake of an F-35B jet crash outside of Beaufort, S.C. on September 28. The U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy have hundreds of F-35s, both flying in the continental United States and deployed overseas, while the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Israel, Japan, and South Korea have smaller fleets. "But it does seem to me kind of ludicrous that we get new aircraft off the production line and within a month they are at 65 percent readiness".
"If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status", DellaVedova said. In response, all U.S. military F-35s will be inspected as well as F-35s operated by U.S. allies. The pilot safely ejected.
Of the 280 operational F-35s purchased to date by USA and worldwide partners, only 51 percent are now available for flight, Vice Adm.
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It will equip the US Air Force and Marine Corps as well as several of Washington's allies. The Air Force has 156, the Marine Corps has 61 and the Navy has 28, according to data provided by the joint program office.
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.
The F-35B is the short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the aircraft.
Officials said most of the global fleet of about 320 jets could be grounded for up to 48 hours while investigators inspect fuel tubes in engines that are made by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.
The US Air Force and European customers consider the F-35's operating costs a major problem.
The United Kingdom, an F-35 partner, said it was pausing some, but not all, flight operations.
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.