F-35 fighter jets grounded after U.S. crash

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"The U.S. services and worldwide partners have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while the enterprise conducts a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft", F-35 Joint Program Office spokesman Joe DellaVedova said in a statement.

The F-35 is the costliest USA weapons system.

The decision temporarily halts combat operations by Marines, who began conducting airstrikes against Taliban targets in Afghanistan the day before the crash. "Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours".

The Israeli military said it was taking additional precautions and conducting tests on its version of the F-35, known as the F-35I.

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.

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The entire fleet of U.S. F-35s have been grounded worldwide, according to a Pentagon statement released on Thursday. The JPO said that if the suspect fuel tubes are installed, they will be removed and replaced. "If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status", the Defense Department said in a statement. "Some global partners within the F-35 program are already commencing flying following conclusion of their inspections".

The jet was based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and on a routine training missing at the time.

The temporary suspension of flight operations will also impact worldwide partners, such as Israel, that have the F-35.

But if the planes are "required for operational action, the F-35I aircraft are ready and prepared", a statement read.

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While the initial cost of the fifth-generation planes was in the ballpark of £100 million ($132 million), some estimates put the actual price tag at a whopping £150 ($198 million) each.

Inspections are to be carried out on faulty fuel tubes. John Pendleton, an official for the federal watchdog agency Government Accountability Office, said there hasn't been enough focus within the Air Force on sustaining the F-35, instead of focusing on production.

The F-35B is the short takeoff, vertical landing variant of the aircraft, which allows the pilot to hover and land vertically like a helicopter - a necessity for the Marines, which typically operate from amphibious ships with smaller decks than aircraft carriers.

He added, however, that F-35 flight trials from the aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, are continuing and the program remains on schedule. It represents a step-change in capability but the F-35's complexity has inevitably thrown up problems.

The Israeli warplanes, purchased from the US, are a different model than the American one that crashed.

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Other nations that have signed contracts to join the F-35 program include the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway, according to the Pentagon.

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