Pentagon grounds global fleet of F-35s after fighter jet crash

US, the UK and Israel to carry out a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine of the F-35 aircraft.

    Pentagon grounds global fleet of F-35s after fighter jet crash
    The F-35 programme is considered the most expensive weapons system in US history [Andrea Shalal/Reuters]

    The US Department of Defence grounded its global fleet of F-35 stealth fighters on Thursday as a result of the first-ever crash of the costliest plane in history.

    A Marine Corps F-35B was completely destroyed in a crash during training in South Carolina on September 28. The pilot safely ejected.

    According to Joe DellaVedova, a spokesperson for the F-35 programme, the US and its international partners - including the UK and Israel - have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations for a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the aircraft engine.

    "The action to perform the inspection is driven from initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina," DellaVedova said in a statement.

    He added that suspect fuel tubes would be removed and replaced.

    Planes that are found to have good tubes already installed will be returned to operational status.

    Inspections were expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

    The United Kingdom, however, said the measure did not affect all of its F-35s and that some flying missions had been "paused," not grounded.

    "Safety is our paramount concern, therefore the UK has decided to pause some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure while we consider the findings of an ongoing inquiry," a British Ministry of Defence spokesman said.

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

    A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany [Axel Schmidt/Reuters]

    Most expensive weapons system

    The South Carolina crash came only one day after the US military first used the F-35 in combat, with Marine Corps fighters hitting Taliban targets in Afghanistan.

    "The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents," DellaVedova said.

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

    On Wednesday, Defense News reported that Secretary of Defense James Mattis had ordered the Air Force and Navy to make 80 percent of the fleet of key fighters, including the F-35, mission capable within a year.

    The order sent ripples through the halls of the Pentagon, where officials have long bemoaned the general lack of readiness for key equipment.

    Launched in the early 1990s, the F-35 programme is considered the most expensive weapons system in US history, with an estimated cost of some $400bn and a goal to produce 2,500 aircraft in the coming years.

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

    Proponents tout the F-35's radar-dodging stealth technology, supersonic speeds, close air support capabilities, airborne agility and a massive array of sensors giving pilots unparalleled access to information.

    But the programme has faced numerous delays, cost overruns and setbacks, including a mysterious engine fire in 2014 that led commanders to temporarily ground the planes.

    So far, the US military has taken delivery of 245 F-35s, most of them to the Air Force.

    US Air Force personnel stand in front of a US Air Force's Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II as the jets arrived for a training deployment to Europe in Amari Airbase, Estonia [Valda Kalnina/EPA]
    An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim Airbase in southern Israel [Amir Cohen/Reuters]
    An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant joint strike fighter prepares to take off from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower in the Atlantic Ocean [US Navy/Reuters]
    Israeli soldiers walk near an F-35 fighter jet that just landed in Israel at Nevatim Airbase after the Israeli air force bought them at Nevatim in southern Israel [Amir Cohen/Reuters]
    A US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in flight as the jets arrived for a training deployment to Europe in Amari Airbase, Estonia [Valda Kalnina/EPA] 

    SOURCE: AP news agency