F-35 jets: USA military grounds entire fleet

The U.S. Marine Corps version of Lockheed Martin's F35 Joint Strike Fighter

The U.S. Marine Corps version of Lockheed Martin's F35 Joint Strike Fighter

The US military has temporarily grounded its entire fleet of F-35 fighter jets in the wake of a crash in SC last month.

He added that suspect fuel tubes would be removed and replaced. "If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status", the Defense Department said in a statement.

He said inspections were expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

The inspection was prompted by initial data from the investigation into the crash of a Marine Corps F-35B from a training squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in SC.

"At this time, the cause of the mishap has not yet been determined", said Capt. Christopher Harrison, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman. The pilot ejected safely from the single-seat jet, but the aircraft was completely destroyed. The news comes days after reports surfaced that Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered the Air Force and Navy to significantly improve "mission capable rates", or readiness, of the F-35 and three other tactical aircraft fleets-referring to the percentage of time the aircraft are available to fly versus being down for maintenance.

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

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The Joint Program Office statement included "international partners" in the flight operation grounding, though the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence tweeted they have only "paused some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure while we consider the findings of an ongoing enquiry". It promises to be the centrepiece of U.S. air power for decades to come.

The F-35 program is expected to cost the Pentagon about $406 billion for 2,456 fighter jets that the services intend to buy, according to the Joint Program Office.

Although the Marine Corps is the first USA service to fly its joint strike fighters in combat, the aircraft has been used by the Israeli air force to strike targets. In May, Israel Defense Forces officials confirmed that the country's F-35 "Adir" fighters had seen combat in two airstrikes somewhere in the Middle East. In response, all U.S. military F-35s will be inspected as well as F-35s operated by United States allies. The Air Force followed by declaring initial operational capability for the F-35A conventional variant in 2016, while the Navy plans to declare Initial Operational Capability for the F-35C carrier variant in February 2019.

The F-35 stealth jet has been called the most expensive weapons system in history, and its development was beset by multiple delays before it was deemed combat ready.

Now the US military has purchased 245 aircraft from Lockheed Martin.

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