F-35 Jets: Military grounds entire fleet

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A fleet of F-35 fighter jets have been temporarily grounded in order to inspect the aircraft after a crash in SC last month (file photo).

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.

Certain fuel tubes were identified as a potential problem. If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status.

The inspection of the fuel tubes is already underway, and expected to be completed within 24 to 48 hours, Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman with the Pentagon's Joint Program Office, told Task & Purpose.

A Marine Corps-operated F-35B, a short take-off/vertical landing model, crashed on Little Barnwell Island, about 5 miles from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, in Beaufort, South Carolina at around 11:45 a.m. on September 28, Military.com reported.

The pilot, assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, ejected safely, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed to Task & Purpose.

While the F-35's U.S-based Joint Program Office had indicated that the grounding included aircraft purchased by foreign militaries, the British military signaled Monday that its entire fleet is not grounded.

Military officials said the inspections ordered this week are to help prevent any future incidents.

It will equip the US Air Force and Marine Corps as well as several of Washington's allies.

Even before the F-35 grounding, experts speculated that Mattis's goal of reaching 80 percent readiness for these aircraft-the F-35, F-22, F-16, and F/A-18-was a pipe dream.

The incident occurred only one day after the United States military first used the F-35 in combat, when Marine Corps jets hit Taliban targets in Afghanistan.

The United States and foreign nations who have bought the joint-strike fighter are now flying more than 340 of the jets, but plan to purchase thousands of the planes in the coming years.

While the initial cost of the fifth-generation planes was in the ballpark of £100 million ($132 million), some estimates put the actual price tag at a whopping £150 ($198 million) each.

According to CNN, the Air Force has 156 F-35 aircraft in inventory; the Marine Corps has 61 and the Navy has 28.

The crash in SC involved an F-35B, which is able to land vertically and costs around $100m (£75m). It represents a step-change in capability but the F-35's complexity has inevitably thrown up problems.

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.

He added, however, that F-35 flight trials from the aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, are continuing and the program remains on schedule.

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.