The Pentagon on Friday grounded its entire F-35 stealth fighter fleet after finding a crack in one plane's engine. This latest problem comes just as the Pentagon is attempting to persuade Congress to cancel automatic cuts associated with the upcoming sequester, the first installment of which is scheduled to take effect Friday and may force the Pentagon to delay buying three of the approximately 30 F-35 planes it had planned to order this year.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program office released a statement saying a routine engine inspection on Tuesday “revealed a crack on a low-pressure turbine blade of an F-35 engine” and the office took the “precautionary measure” of suspending all F-35 flight operations. “The F-35 Joint Program Office is working closely with Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin at all F-35 locations to ensure the integrity of the engine, and to return the fleet safely to flight as soon as possible.”
The crack was found on a test plane at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The blade is being shipped to a plant in Connecticut, where the engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney will inspect and investigate.
Lockheed Martin, which makes the primary plane, said 64 of the jets would be affected. The Pentagon estimates that it could spend as much as $396 billion to buy 2,456 of the jets by the late 2030s. Delays and cost overruns make the F-35 program a target for upcoming cuts. The cost to build each F-35 has risen to $137 million from $69 million in 2001. Full production isn't expected until as late as 2019, which means spending billions to extend the lives of aging F-16 and F-18 fighters.
Just days before the grounding the Marine Corps gave their version of the fighter — designed to land vertically like Britain’s Harrier jet — the green light to fly after its own unrelated grounding.