Possible Faulty Part Prompts Pentagon to Ground F-35s

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The confirmation on Friday afternoon comes after the US Department of Defense announced on Thursday US time it had suspended F-35 flying to inspect fuel tubes within the aircraft's Pratt & Whitney F135 engines, following initial investigations into a US Marine Corps F-35B crash in SC, near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, in late September.

For the F-35, it's not clear yet how many jets will be grounded for the long term.

"During this mission the F-35B conducted an air strike in support of ground clearance operations, and the strike was deemed successful by the ground force commander", said a Marine Corps statement confirming the strike. The F-35 program office said the inspections should be completed in one or two days.

A Marine Corps-operated F-35B, a short take-off/vertical landing model, crashed on Little Barnwell Island, about 5 miles from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, in Beaufort, South Carolina at around 11:45 a.m. on September 28, Military.com reported. The F-35B is the Marine Corps version of the aircraft.

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The F-35 program, the most expensive weapon in US military history, has been marred by delays and cost overruns and other mechanical issues. "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".

"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced", the Pentagon said in a statement. If known properly functioning fuel tubes are already installed, those aircraft would be returned to flight status.

In this 2016 file photo, an Israeli Air Force F-35 plane performs during a graduation ceremony for new pilots in the Hatzerim Air Force Base near Beersheba, Israel.

"The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents", said Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman with the Pentagon's Joint Program Office, which oversees the F-35. "We will take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain and modernize the F-35 for the warfighter and our defense partners".

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According to the Pentagon, the decision to temporarily suspend operations for the fleet results from initial data that investigators gathered in their probe of last month's crash. The Marine pilot safely ejected from the plane. The program is estimated to have a lifetime cost of over $1.5 trillion. It represents a step-change in capability but the F-35's complexity has inevitably thrown up problems.

The temporary suspension of all F-35 flights is an embarrassment given the extraordinary cost of this frequently troubled programme.

The Israeli warplanes, purchased from the USA, are a different model than the American one that crashed.

This story is developing and will be updated.

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