Entire US fleet of F-35s grounded for engine inspections

The Pentagon on Thursday said its fleet of Lockheed Martin Corp.

Inspections are to be carried out on faulty fuel tubes.

A USA official says only half the current fleet of aircraft have the fuel tube, but inspections will be carried out on the entire US fleet.

An official report questioned earlier this year whether the F-35 was ready for combat after dozens of faults were found.

According to Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the F-35 program, the USA and its global partners - including Britain and Israel - have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations for a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft. If the faulty part is found, it will be removed and replaced. Luckily, the pilot of the crashed aircraft ejected and landed safely. If good tubes are already installed, then those planes will be returned to operational status.

Inspections should be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

The inspection was prompted by initial data from the investigation into the crash of a Marine Corps F-35B from a training squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in SC.

"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". John Pendleton, an official for the federal watchdog agency Government Accountability Office, said there hasn't been enough focus within the Air Force on sustaining the F-35, instead of focusing on production.

The Ministry of Defence in London said the United Kingdom had made a decision to "pause some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure while we consider the findings of an ongoing enquiry".

The temporary suspension of flight operations will also impact worldwide partners, such as Israel, that have the F-35. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fly different versions of the stealthy fighter. If the aircraft has those particular tubes, they will be replaced.

The F-35 has attracted attention not only for its capabilities but also for its cost, after delays and overruns helped make the fighter jet program the most expensive in the Pentagon's history. It represents a step-change in capability but the F-35's complexity has inevitably thrown up problems. It promises to be the centrepiece of USA air power for decades to come.

According to data for fiscal year 2017, the most recent available, the Air Force's F-35A models had around a 55 percent readiness rate, well below that target.