Pentagon grounds F-35 fleet after engine crack found

AP, WASHINGTON

Sun, Feb 24, 2013 - Page 7

The Pentagon on Friday grounded its fleet of F-35 fighter jets after discovering a cracked engine blade in one plane.

The problem was discovered during what the Pentagon called a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base, California, of an F-35A, the US Air Force version of the sleek new plane.

The US Navy and the US Marine Corps are buying other versions of the F-35, which is intended to replace older fighters like the F-16 and the F/A-18.

All versions — a total of 51 planes — were grounded on Friday pending a more in-depth evaluation of the problem discovered at Edwards.

In a brief written statement, the Pentagon said it is too early to know the full impact of the newly discovered problem.

A watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, said the grounding is not likely to mean a significant delay in the effort to field the stealthy aircraft.

“The F-35 is a huge problem because of its growing, already unaffordable, cost and its gigantically disappointing performance,” the group’s Winslow Wheeler said.

The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program at an estimated cost of nearly US$400 billion. The Pentagon envisions buying more than 2,400 F-35s, but some members of US Congress are balking at the price tag.

Friday’s suspension of flight operations will remain in effect until an investigation determines the problem’s root cause.