A small crack on an engine blade of the controversial F-35 fighter jet means the planes will again be grounded, but the defect does not yet appear to have any effect on the future of the aircraft, a Pentagon official said Monday.
Department of Defense Spokesman George Little insisted that, at least at this time, there’s no evidence of a wider problem with the plane.
“This is one part, on one plane that had some kind of defect," he said, but added that with safety of the aircraft paramount, “the logical and prudent thing to do was to ground the aircraft."
Despite a 12-year history of cost overruns and technical problems for a program that now is expected to cost almost $400 billion, the latest setback, for the time being at least, is seen as no more than that; just another setback.
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"There is absolutely no backing away from our commitment to the F-35 program,” Little said.
Later, he added, “We don’t know if this is a problem limited to this particular part of this particular plane, or whether it’s a more widespread design issue. We hope, of course, it’s a limited issue."
A Defense Department news release noted that “a routine engine inspection revealed a crack on an engine blade” on a jet at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The “engine’s turbine module and its associated hardware” is being shipped to the manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney’s Engine Facility in Middletown, Conn., for evaluation.
The F-35 has been easy target of critics during the current debate over how the Department of Defense can best deal with $48 billion in impending spending cuts, known as the sequester. Short of an agreement between Congress and the White House, the cuts will start to take effect March 1.
Jacob Stokes, a researcher and expert on military spending at the Center for a New American Security, said that he could not see this development changing the course of the jet, but said, “If you weren’t already concerned about the F-35, you weren’t paying attention.”
While an official military website calls the F-35 “the world’s foremost stealthy, supersonic, survivable, lethal, supportable and affordable multi-role fighter,” it is also the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program ever.