US military grounds some of its top fighter jets – media
America’s F-35 fighter jets have reportedly come under new scrutiny after a crash earlier this month at a base in Texas raised safety concerns about the aircraft, prompting the grounding of some planes for an investigation.
Some versions of the F-35 have been sidelined for special inspections under an order issued earlier this week, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) told The Hill media outlet on Thursday. The JPO didn’t disclose how many aircraft have been grounded or the specific concerns that are being investigated.
The order recommended restrictions on “a small number of aircraft, which have been evaluated to be of higher risk, from flight operations and until procedures can be developed for their return to flight,” an unidentified JPO official said. The JPO is working with the US military branches that employ the F-35, as well as foreign buyers of the aircraft, “to ensure understanding of the risks identified.”
The decision follows a December 15 crash involving an F-35B Lightning II, the new US Marine Corps variant of the fighter jet, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. The hovering aircraft was landing vertically when it appeared to bounce upward before falling forward and skidding around on its nose and right wing. The pilot ejected as the plane fell back onto its landing gear into a level position.
Most of the F-35s are built by Lockheed Martin at a plant in Fort Worth. The F-35B variant is still going through quality checks before being officially turned over to the Marine Corps.
The crash may have stemmed from the failure of a tube used to transfer high-pressure fuel into the F-35’s engine, Defense News reported, citing an anonymous source familiar with the program. The JPO has revised its risk assessments for the aircraft, leading to broader groundings in the fleet. Jets with fewer than 40 hours of flying time on their records are affected, the source said.
Some US lawmakers have criticized the F-35 program, saying it will cost $1.3 trillion to sustain the fighter jets, partly because of poor reliability. Only 30% of the jets are capable of performing all of their assigned duties at any point in time, according to US Representative John Garamendi, a California Democrat. Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat, called the program a “rathole.”