U.S. Air Force via Reuters file
The crack was discovered in an engine blade of an F35A at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif..
The Defense Department grounded all 51 of its F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the U.S. military's most expensive project, after a crack was discovered in an engine blade during a routine inspection, it said Friday.
It's the second time F-35s have been grounded in recent weeks. The Pentagon grounded its 25 F-35B jets, used by the Marine corps, on Jan. 18 after a fuel line detached during a training flight. The F-35B — one of three varieties used by the U.S. — was cleared to resume testing only last week.
Unlike that suspension, the action announced Friday affects all of the U.S. military's F-35s.
The crack was discovered in an engine blade of an Air Force F-35A Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the Defense Department said in a statement. The engine, manufactured by Pratt & Whitney, was being shipped to the company's facility in Middletown, Conn., for more evaluation, it said.
"It is too early to know the fleet-wide impact of the recent finding," the statement said.
Matthew Bates, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, told The Army Times that the engine analysis should take "roughly" a week.
The Defense Department touts the Joint Strike Fighter — its most expensive military hardware program, at roughly $400 billion — its "next-generation strike aircraft weapon systems," offering "cutting-edge technologies to the battlespace of the future."
Military planners envision the F-35 as taking a lead role in "first day of war" operations, eventually replacing a range of workhorse jets, including the F-16, the A-10 and the F/A-18. Current plans call for the U.S. to buy 2,443 aircraft under a contract with Lockheed Martin.