F-35 jets: USA military grounds entire fleet

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The entire global fleet of US F-35 fighter jets has been grounded, the Pentagon said Thursday morning, pending a fleet-wide inspection of engines in the wake of an F-35B crash last month. The news comes days after reports surfaced that Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered the Air Force and Navy to significantly improve "mission capable rates", or readiness, of the F-35 and three other tactical aircraft fleets-referring to the percentage of time the aircraft are available to fly versus being down for maintenance.

A Marine Corps F-35B was completely destroyed in a crash during training in SC on September 28. The U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy have hundreds of F-35s, both flying in the continental United States and deployed overseas, while the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Israel, Japan, and South Korea have smaller fleets.

The inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours, the Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement.

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

Checks were being carried out to see whether the F-35s, the most advanced fighter jet ever created, have the same tubes as those which were used in the plane which went down.

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

"We will take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain and modernise the F-35 for the warfighter and our defence partners".

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The Israeli warplanes, purchased from the USA, are a different model than the American one that crashed.

One of Britain's new supersonic "stealth" strike fighters accompanied by a United States Marine Corps F-35B aircraft, flies over the North Sea. Planes known to have working fuel tubes installed will return to the skies.

A Marine F-35B crashed into an uninhabited marsh island near the Grays Hill community in SC on September 28.

The F-35B is the short takeoff, vertical landing variant of the aircraft, which allows the pilot to hover and land vertically like a helicopter - a necessity for the Marines, which typically operate from amphibious ships with smaller decks than aircraft carriers. The more complex Navy and Marine Corps variants of the plane remained above $100 million.

The temporary suspension of all F-35 flights is an embarrassment given the extraordinary cost of this frequently troubled programme. The US government's accountability office estimates all costs associated with the project will amount to one trillion dollars. F-35s have already been delivered to the United Kingdom, Italy, Israel, Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Norway.

It will equip the US Air Force and Marine Corps as well as several of Washington's allies.

This story is developing and will be updated.

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