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Pentagon Grounds Troubled F-35 Fighters After First Crash

11 October 2018

The entire fleet of F-35 fighter jets has been grounded to inspect the aircraft for suspected faulty fuel tubes, the United States military said. The Marine version of the jet is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings, and one flew its first combat mission last month in Afghanistan.

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 it is found that good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status.

"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced", Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman with the Pentagon's Joint Program Office, which oversees the F-35, said in a statement.

"Safety is our paramount concern, therefore the United Kingdom has chose to pause some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure while we consider the findings of an ongoing enquiry", a British Defense Ministry spokesman said.

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

"We will take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain and modernize the F-35". 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.

Once servicing and maintenance costs for the F-35 are factored in over the aircraft's lifespan through 2070, overall program costs are expected to rise to $1.5 trillion.

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

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

"F-35 flight trials from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth are continuing and the program remains on schedule to provide our armed forces with a game-changing capability".

"I know it's a complex aircraft, only took nearly two decades to procure and develop which, that's a whole other topic for a whole other hearing", said Sullivan, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel on readiness and management support. Once these are checked or replaced the aircraft will be back in the air.

"And yet for the F-35 that's a new airplane coming online, coming out into the fleet ... in the mid-60s", he said. "So why is there such a disparity between military aircraft, that are brand new, and commercial aircraft?"

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"It's causing problems now", said Pendleton, GAO director of defense capabilities and management.

Pentagon Grounds Troubled F-35 Fighters After First Crash