The U.S. military on Thursday grounded its entire fleet of F-35 stealth fighters after one of the jets crashed during a training mission in SC last month, officials said Thursday.
The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) said on 11 October that the USA suspended flight operations.
The South Carolina crash - the first ever for the 5th-generation plane - ironically happened just a day after an F-35B successfully completed a mission in Afghanistan, an event that was reported by the Pentagon as a major milestone for the program. "Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours", Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the F-35 program, said in a statement to Fox News.
An official report questioned earlier this year whether the F-35 was ready for combat after dozens of faults were found.
The inspection was prompted by initial data from the investigation into the crash of a Marine Corps F-35B from a training squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in SC.
The Air Force has 156 F-35 aircraft in inventory; the Marine Corps has 61 and the Navy has 28.
The F-35 program, the most expensive weapon in USA military history, has been marred by delays and cost overruns and other mechanical issues.
The fault with the planes is believed to be with the fuel tube, and affects more than 250 US-owned jets, as well as almost 100 that belong to other nations including Britain.
"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced", DellaVedova said. If the aircraft has those, they will be replaced.
More than 320 F-35s around the world must now undergo the inspections, according to a source familiar with the program.More news: Trump hosts Kavanaugh for ceremonial swearing
A pilot sits in the cockpit of an F-35 fighter jet preparing for a training mission at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah.
Even if the glitch is to be identified and fixed, the reputational damage of the first crash of America's most expensive military aircraft program could be more enduring.
The temporary suspension of flight operations will also impact worldwide partners, such as Israel, that have the F-35.
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 crash in SC involved an F-35B, which is able to land vertically and costs around $100m (£75m).
The United Kingdom, an F-35 partner, said it was pausing some, but not all, flight operations.
The US Air Force and European customers consider the F-35's operating costs a major problem.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has projected a total lifetime cost of $1 trillion for the program.
Flight operations for the strike fighter have been temporarily suspended as the military conducts a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engines of all F-35 aircraft, a Pentagon spokesman told Task & Purpose.
The plane, manufactured by Lockheed Martin but including parts made in several other countries, has been sold to a number of nations, including the UK, Japan, Italy, Turkey and South Korea.