The three USA armed services and global militaries flying the single-engine F-35 all made the decision Thursday to temporarily halt flights while investigators conduct a fleetwide inspection for a faulty part-a fuel tube within the engine-according to Joe Dellavedova, a spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office.
Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II's assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fly a combat mission over Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2018. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, raised questions on the troubles still facing the F-35 program and its readiness rate of about 65 percent. "If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status", the Defense Department said in a statement. If the faulty part is found, it will be removed and replaced.
The inspection is "is driven from initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina" on September 28, according to the statement.
A spokesman for the F-35s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, said Thursday morning that industry partners were working with the F-35's Joint Program Office to investigate the problems.
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. The program is estimated to have a lifetime cost of over $1.5 trillion.
The military say that the inspection process is expected to take up to 48 hours. The pilot was able to eject safely, but the aircraft was a total loss.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "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".
The temporary suspension of all F-35 flights is an embarrassment given the extraordinary cost of this frequently troubled programme. Depending on the availability of parts, the fuel tube can be replaced quickly. "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". It represents a step-change in capability but the F-35's complexity has inevitably thrown up problems.
However there is no going back now. It promises to be the centrepiece of USA air power for decades to come.
While its costs per aircraft are coming down there are still questions about how many planes the USA can afford and whether it should also buy a cheaper, less capable aircraft alongside the F-35.