The Pentagon has grounded its entire F-35 jet fighter fleet, citing engine problems. The problem has been identified as a cracked engine blade, detected during a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The F-35 fighter jet is touted as the most modern and expensive aircraft on the US inventory and the fighter jet has not been without controversy. 51 of the aircraft are currently on the inventory. None are deployed for combat operations and are all currently involved in testing.
The aircraft is being produced in different versions for use by the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Navy. The F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive program, estimated at a cost of $400 billion. The Pentagon intends to buy 400 of the aircraft.
A spokeswoman for the Pentagon's Joint Program Office, Kyra Hawn, said in a statement that Engineering teams are shipping the turbine blade to Pratt & Whitney's Engine Facility in Middletown, CT to conduct more thorough evaluation.
Engineering teams are shipping the turbine blade to Pratt & Whitney's Engine Facility in Middletown (Conn.) to conduct more thorough evaluation and root cause analysis," Hawn said in a written statement. "It is too early to know the fleet-wide impact of this finding, however as a precautionary measure, all F-35 flight operations have been suspended until the investigation is complete and the cause of the blade crack is fully understood."
The purchase of the F-35 has come under fire in Canada, a program initially estimated to cost $9 billion. Canada had intended to purchase 65 of the fighter jets, but the program costs were underestimated, the aircraft had no Arctic capability and the auditor general found that Department of National Defence had understated the costs and that the government had not run a fair bidding process. The Canadian government has placed the program on hold.
The UK is among other NATO nations that is looking into buying the vertical take off version of the aircraft to replace its fleet of Harriers. The UK was looking at the increased range and speed of the F-35 and its stealth capability.
The Pentagon said that it was too early to tell the full impact of the problem and that the suspension would remain in effect until the root cause is determined.