F-35 CRASHES. ENTIRE FLEET GROUNDED.
Just when the JSF program is starting to put its troubled past behind it, another incident occurs.
On September 29th, a USMC F-35B crashed in South Carolina. Thankfully, the pilot ejected safely and no lives were lost.
For more details on the incident, check out Foxtrot Alpha.
While the JSF is certainly no stranger to its share of incidents, this is the first time one of the aircraft has been lost due to a crash.
After a brief investigation, the Pentagon has ordered the entire F-35 fleet to be grounded. This is the second time the entire fleet has been grounded; the first grounding was the result of "engine rubbing" that caused a spontaneous engine fire.
Despite its well-publicized incidents and groundings, the F-35 remains a relatively safe plane. Its been flying over twelve years, with total flight hours in the hundreds of thousands, and over 320 airframes built. Not a single fatality has been reported so far.
Many other modern fighters cannot make that claim.
What is far more worrisome is that, in one fell swoop, a single manufacturing defect has managed to ground over 300 aircraft in multiple countries. While the F-35 is still new enough that this is of little consequence on a strategic level, it illustrates a major flaw in the JSF program.
With the F-35 intending to replace every F-16, F/A-18, A-10, AV-8, and others; there is little margin for error. It is the fighter equivalent to putting all the eggs in one basket. Ten years from now, a fleet-wide F-35 would result in thousands of idle aircraft instead of hundreds. Given the networked nature of the JSF's avionics, a hostile power could cripple western airpower using nothing more than a computer virus.
While most F-35 users do have the luxury of additional fighter types like the Super Hornet, F-22, or Typhoon; single fighter-type nations (like Canada) would find themselves in a predicament.