Defense Department officials notified Congress Friday that ground and flight operations for the entire F-35 fighter jet fleet, comprising all three variants of the plane, are being halted indefinitely.
The decision was made after a crack was discovered on an engine blade in one of the test planes.
“Until the nature of this crack has been determined, the integrity of the F-35 fleet cannot be assured and the potential exists for catastrophic failure,” said Vice Adm. David Dunaway, chief of Naval Air Systems Command, in a memo Thursday to affected Defense Department offices.
The cracked part is an “engine stage 3 Low-Pressure Turbine (LPT) blade” and it was discovered Feb. 19 during a routine inspection of an Air Force variant of the jet at Edwards Air Force Base in California, officials said.
“It is too early to know the fleetwide 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 F-35 joint program office said in a statement.
Congress will keep a close eye on how this plays out. This latest manifestation of the F-35’s developmental difficulties will not help the program’s cause as the Pentagon’s budget tightens in the years ahead. At an acquisition cost of roughly $400 billion, the program is the fiscal equivalent of a zeppelin as a target for budget cutters.
Secondly, a failure of this kind in one of the engine variants is precisely the kind of risk that some lawmakers sought to avoid by funding for many years a second type of engine for the plane. The second-engine program was terminated in 2011 amid a widespread perception that it was a waste of money. It’s not inconceivable that this latest incident could rekindle the alternative engine debate.
United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney is building the engines for the F-35. General Electric and Rolls-Royce worked on a second engine even after Congress rejected it and finally stopped that work in December of 2011.
A version of this story appeared in Executive Briefing: Defense
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.