Pentagon Grounds F-35 Fleet After Crash

A file image of a Lockheed Martin F-35B for the US Marines

A US Marine Corps F-35B crashed last month

The U.S. military on Thursday grounded its entire fleet of F-35 stealth fighters after one of the jets crashed during a training mission in SC last month, officials said Thursday.

The first U.S. combat mission conducted by an F-35 happened last month when a Marine Corps jet launched off the amphibious warship USS Essex struck targets in Afghanistan.

"The US Services and global 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", according to a statement issued by the Department of Defense. Planes known to have working fuel tubes installed will return to the skies. "The aircraft mishap board is continuing its work and the U.S. Marine Corps will provide additional information when it becomes available".

Inspections are expected to be completed within the next two days, the statement said, and a defense official told CNN some aircraft have already been returned to flight status.

"Safety is our paramount concern, therefore the United Kingdom has made a decision to pause some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure while we consider the findings of an ongoing enquiry", a British Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The F-35 is the costliest US weapons system.

Inspections should be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

"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", DellaVedova said.

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

"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced".

The F-35 programme has been hit by numerous delays, cost overruns and setbacks, including a mysterious engine fire in 2014 that also led to commanders temporarily grounding the aircraft. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, raised questions on the troubles still facing the F-35 program and its readiness rate of about 65 percent.

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. John Pendleton, an official for the federal watchdog agency Government Accountability Office, said there hasn't been enough focus within the Air Force on sustaining the F-35, instead of focusing on production.

"It's causing problems now", said Pendleton, GAO director of defense capabilities and management.

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