On October 11th, the Pentagon ordered the grounding of the entire F-35 fleet worldwide. The reason for the decision is the crash of an F-35B fighter jet in South Carolina on September 28th. Investigators came to the conclusion that there is a widespread problem with the aircraft’s fuel tubes.
“The U.S. Services and international partners have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while the enterprise conducts a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft,” the F-35 Joint Program Office announced in a statement on the morning of October 11th.
“If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced. If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status. Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.”
The office said the grounding “is driven from initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina on 28 September. The aircraft mishap board is continuing its work and the U.S. Marine Corps will provide additional information when it becomes available.”
In the September 28th crash the pilot ejected safely from the aircraft, but the jet was totaled.
Despite the Pentagon’s claim that the F-35 is grounded worldwide, the UK Ministry of Defense, on its Twitter, said that all of the F-35 jets have not been grounded. Some were paused from flying in relation to the investigation.
Lockheed Martin is also apparently hard at work to solve the issue.
“We are actively partnering with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, our global customers and Pratt & Whitney to support the resolution of this issue and limit disruption to the fleet,” said Michael Friedman, the spokesman for Lockheed.
“The Commander of the IAF, Maj Gen Amikam Norkin, decided to take additional precautions and conduct tests on all F-35I aircraft, despite the accident having occurred in a model not used by the IAF and although no malfunctions have been found in IAF aircraft. The testing will take several days and once completed the planes will return to full operations. In the meanwhile, if the F-35I are required for operational action, the F-35I aircraft are ready and prepared.”
The Royal Australian Airforce has taken the delivery of 9 F-35s from Lockheed Martin, all of them are currently grounded in the American training base in Arizona.
The Australian Defense Force released a statement saying that “the F-35 fleet has been instructed to conduct safety inspections across all delivered engines. Australian F-35 aircraft currently based in the US will return to flying operations once safety inspections are complete. Some international partners within the F-35 Program are already commencing flying following conclusion of their inspections.”
The Drive reported that the F-35 program has hit a significant milestone when the US Marine Corps flew its first ever combat mission above Afghanistan in September 2018.
On September 28th, two F-35Bs landed on the Royal Navy’s new and only aircraft carrier for the first time.
The grounding of the F-35 fighter jets is an embarrassment for this extremely expensive and much troubled program.
There have been numerous issues with the F-35’s development so far. As of January 2018, the jet had cumbersome software tools and outdated or incomplete hardware, according to Michael Gilmore, the former Director of the Operational Test and Evaluation.
On August 29th, the Project on Government Oversight reported that the F-35 had numerous life-threatening issues remaining. Instead of fixing these issues, F-35 officials were recategorizing them as issues of lower significance. These problems were downgraded without a fix in sight.
In total, the F-35 had 111 Category I (life-threatening issues) deficiencies, out of which 19 were downgraded to Category II (less serious issues), with 10 of them having no plan in place to correct them.
The F-35, according to POGO has been declared combat ready simply so it can move past the development phase. However, to make it truly capable and not simply “officially” it would take years and much more investments. The program already costs more than $12.2 billion annually to keep the aircraft flying, according to POGO’s investigation into official documents.