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Pentagon grounds all F-35 fighter jets

Pentagon grounds all F-35 fighter jets
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The Pentagon’s entire fleet of F-35 joint strike fighters is grounded after the jets’ fuel tubes were suspected to be the cause of a crash last month, the Defense Department announced Thursday.

“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 said in a statement.

“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 program office noted.

The possible issue with the fuel tubes appears to be fleetwide, as it is linked to the fighters’ Pratt & Whitney-made engine, installed in all variants.

A spokesman from F-35 maker Lockheed Martin told The Hill Thursday that the company has completed inspection on aircraft in Fort Worth, Texas — where the fighter is made — and are resuming flights.

“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,” the Lockheed spokesman said. 

The office also said the inspections were prompted by “initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed” on Sept. 28. near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.

In that crash, the pilot safely ejected from the fighter.

“The aircraft mishap board is continuing its work and the U.S. Marine Corps will provide additional information when it becomes available,” the program office said.

The incident came a day after the Pentagon announced that the U.S. had used an F-35 in combat for the first time to conduct an airstrike in Afghanistan.

The F-35 program, the most expensive weapons program in history, has been decried by critics as a boondoggle. The fifth generation fighter jet has had numerous issues, including cost overruns and technical glitches.

The F-35B is the Marine Corps’ version of the fighter and has the ability to take off and land vertically like a helicopter. It was declared combat-ready in 2015, the first variant to reach the milestone.

The military has had a spate of aircraft crashes and mishaps in the past year, including an emergency landing with a Marine Corps F-35B in April, at Cherry Point, N.C.

The program office insists, however, that it will “take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain and modernize the F-35 for the warfighter and our defense partners.”

--Updated at 11:51 p.m.