Pentagon Says It Needs A Massive Overhaul Of All F-35 Fighter Jets

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Pentagon is requiring a fix on all of the roughly 900 advanced F-35 fighter jets as an engine vibration issue stalled deliveries, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Office said Thursday, according to Defense News.

An order went out Wednesday to the entire F-35 fleet to retrofit the entire fleet worldwide, which will encompass installing new parts on hundreds of fighters globally as well as a “small number” of aircraft that have been grounded since December, the Pentagon’s F-35 program division (JPO) told Defense News. An engine vibration issue cropped up in a few newly-made jets carrying Pratt & Whitney-made F135 engines.

“Root cause investigation is still ongoing to determine where these system sensitivities intersect with the excitation frequencies,” Jen Latka, vice president of F135 programs at Pratt & Whitney, told Defense News Thursday.

The engine supplier for Lockheed Martin’s highly-sought F-35 fighter jet halted deliveries on Dec. 27 while an investigation into an accident earlier that month was ongoing, stalling hundreds of planned jet deliveries. (RELATED: Pentagon Drops Another $30 Billion On F-35 Jets — There’s Just One Problem)

The JPO also grounded a small group of newer jets after an F-35B variety crashed on a Texas runway earlier that month during a routine quality check, according to Defense News. Video taken at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth on Dec. 15 showed an F-35B that had recently emerged from the production line bouncing off the ground during landing, tipping forward and spinning as its nose and wing touched the ground.

Lockheed Martin, the company that makes F-35 Lightning II warplanes, also suspended flights at its three production sites, effectively stymying new deliveries.

The investigation identified a “rare” vibration issue in the engine interacting with yet unknown factors, Defense News reported. Pratt & Whitney announced in February it had discovered a solution for the issue and resumed deliveries on Feb. 24.

“Only a small number of aircraft were impacted by the harmonic resonance,” JPO told The Daily Caller News Foundation

Each fix will take roughly 4 to 8 hours to complete and is “inexpensive [and] non-intrusive,” the JPO added, recommending a span of 90 days to get all 890 units globally up and running again.

“The safety of flight crews is the JPO’s primary concern,” the JPO told Defense News.

A government watchdog recently called the F-35 program, shared with seven partner nations and seven additional buyers, the Department of Defense’s “most ambitious and costly weapon system in history.” Despite billions in Congressional funding allocations, cost and performance issues have plagued the program.

Up to 6% of the U.S. military’s F-35 warplanes remain grounded at any given time due to the inability to sustain Pratt & Whitney-made engines, according to a July report from the Government Accountability Office.

The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin finalized a $30 billion contract to deliver up to 398 new fighter jets to the DOD and partner nations on Dec. 30, according to a statement. DOD tacked on an additional $7.8 billion and 127 jets to an existing contract, including the first planned deliveries for Belgium, Finland and Poland.

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