Military Grounds Some F-35s Following Crash in Texas
Several models of the F-35 Lightning II are being investigated and grounded by the military after a crash in Texas earlier this month forced the pilot to pull off the runway.
The F-35 Joint Program Office, or JPO, told Military.com in an emailed statement Wednesday that one-time inspections have been ordered for several models “as the investigation into the Dec. 15 disaster continues,” but did not disclose numbers. or any other specifications.
“The affected planes have been identified”, says a statement from the JPO. “This is a preliminary risk assessment and actions are underway that we believe will lead to a refinement of this assessment in January 2023. The safety of flight crews is the JPO’s primary concern.”
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The latest grounding comes roughly two weeks after the Dec. 15 incident, in which an F-35B Lightning II crashed during a vertical landing at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth.
The crash followed a string of incidents and mishaps this year, ranging from ejection seat supply problems to the high-profile recovery of an F-35 that crashed into the ocean.
But these incidents likely won’t raise many red flags in Congress or the Pentagon, Jeremiah Gertler, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. who specializes in aviation, told Military.com. .
“I think people who have experience with military aircraft programs, like many members of Congress, will look at it and say, ‘These are the things that typically happen during early training and production,'” Gertler said. no” I still don’t know what exactly happened with that F-35B crash. … It’s the difference between a problem with the program and problems with the individual airplanes.”
Video shared online by CBS News’ Dallas-Fort Worth station shows the F-35B coming in for a vertical landing on the runway; shortly after landing, the plane’s nose cone hits the ground. The plane begins to spin rapidly around the pavement.
The pilot quickly ejected from the F-35B, according to footage, with the parachute opening his legs before the pilot hit the ground. The plane then stopped.
The pilot was an Air Force major who had been doing performance quality checks on behalf of the Defense Contract Management Agency. Immediately after the incident, he was released from the hospital and suffered only minor injuries.
The F-35B “had not yet been transferred to the US government,” according to Pentagon officials, which is typical of aircraft still being tested by the manufacturer, in this case Lockheed Martin.
The Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force did not immediately return a request for comment from Military.com asking how many of their F-35s have been grounded following the incident.
The F-35 Lightning II was first cleared for service in 2012. It is flown by the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy and is one of the most advanced aircraft in the Pentagon’s arsenal.
This widespread use, in addition to the continued retirement of other airframes such as the A-10 Thunderbolt, which Congress is beginning to agree to phase out after a decade of combat, means that the services have no choice but to rely on the F- 35, Gertler said.
“What’s plan B?” Gertler told Military.com. “The Marines don’t have a plan B. They don’t have other aircraft that can do what the F-35 does. In some ways, they’re in a tougher box.”
All service branches have seen problems or mishaps with their F-35s this year.
Earlier this month, the nose cone of a Marine Corps F-35B was damaged after it made a crash landing in Okinawa, Japan.
An F-35A crashed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah in October, causing the pilot to eject and causing fires to spread at the base.
In late July, the Air Fighter Command grounded its fleet of F-35As after a recall related to the jet’s ejection seats, concerned officials. By mid-August, fighter jets were back in the air.
In March, the US Navy announced it had found an F-35C Lightning II fighter jet that crashed on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier in January before skidding and falling in the South China Sea.
The F-35 program has been widely criticized over the past decade by many in Washington for its high price tag and seemingly endless technical and mechanical issues.
The Defense Department currently has 450 F-35s, with plans to increase its fleet to about 2,500 in total. But the F-35’s mission capability rate — the percentage of time the aircraft can fly and complete at least one mission — fell between fiscal years 2020 and 2021 due to mechanical problems, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. .
“A major reason is that an increasing number of F-35s have been unable to fly because they do not have a working engine,” the April 28 GAO report said.
But Gertler said Congress, in general, has warmed to the F-35 program in the past decade, allowing more to be built even above what the Pentagon has requested in annual budgets.
“Congress had been very cautious about the F-35, often withholding money until various performance milestones were reached. That all changed about 10 years ago, when Congress began adding unsolicited aircraft above what the DoD requested in their budget process,” Gertler said. Military.com. “Individual members still have very different views, but Congress has consistently supported the growth of the F-35 fleet over the last decade. So it appears to be a less controversial program than before.”
— Thomas Novelly can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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