US F-35 Jets are Grounded Following Crash

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The U.S. military has grounded its fleet of F-35s following a recent crash in SC to inspect the fighter jets' engine fuel tubes, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

Depending on how many aircraft are affected, the future progress of the programme - which is already the most expensive in history - could be in jeopardy.

A Marine Corps F-35 operating from the USS Essex amphibious assault ship recently struck a Taliban target in Afghanistan, the first successful USA combat sortie for the jet. But last month's incident was the first time the plane had crashed during flight.

The wide-ranging grounding of the entire fleet comes after a Marine F-35B joint strike fighter went down in Beaufort, South Carolina, on September 28.

The grounding order affects all variants of the advanced fighter jets, including the Air Force's F-35A and the Navy's F-35C.

The US Marine Corp led the way with a flight ban on all of its F-35s after one suffered a catastrophic engine failure and crashed in SC in September 28 - the pilot ejected safely, but the remains of the broken fuselage had to be picked out of boggy marshlands near Beaufort.

During the crash investigation, certain fuel tubes were identified as a potential problem, largely involving aircraft built before 2015.

The DOD said in the statement that if "good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status".

More than 320 F-35s around the world must now undergo the inspections, according to a source familiar with the program.

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But if the planes are "required for operational action, the F-35I aircraft are ready and prepared", a statement read.

The issue as described by the JPO indicates the issue is believed to come from a subcontractor who supplied the fuel tubes for engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

The temporary suspension of flight operations will also impact global partners, such as Israel, that have the F-35.

While the initial cost of the fifth-generation planes was in the ballpark of £100 million ($132 million), some estimates put the actual price tag at a whopping £150 ($198 million) each. In total, the aircraft program is projected to cost about $1 trillion to develop, produce, field and sustain over its lifetime, according to the Government Accountability Office.

According to Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the F-35 program, the United States and its worldwide partners - including Britain and Israel - have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations for a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft.

"F-35 flight trials from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth are continuing and the program remains on schedule to provide our armed forces with a game-changing capability".

For the U.S. Defense Department, the timing could not be worse.

This story is developing and will be updated.