Australia has joined the list of countries that is mulling over its order of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in light of the grounding of the U.S. fleet of 51 Lightning IIs on Friday according to Reuters. In fact, grounding the aircraft after a turbine crack was found in an F-35 engine was U.S. Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon's F-35 program chief's last act before he left for a major air show in Melbourne to promote the fighter. The crack was found in the third stage of a Pratt & Whitney-produced F135 engine powering an A-model variant, which is designed for use by the Air Force. Currently, 34 of the jets are in use at training bases in Florida and Arizona. The rest are involved in test programs. A subset of the fleet (those flown by the Marines) had just been cleared to fly on Feb. 13 after being grounded for nearly one month for another problem.
The Marines grounded their version of the jet in January after a problem with a fuel line was discovered prior to a test flight. The engine problem has grounded all versions of the aircraft though no other cracks have yet been reported. The fan blade will now be evaluated at Pratt's Middletown, Conn., facility, where the company will seek a root cause. A report is expected within two weeks. The Joint Strike Fighter is produced by Lockheed Martin. The program's development costs are nearing $400 billion. That figure reportedly marks the jet as the Pentagon's most expensive weapons system. The Joint Strike Fighter program isn't expected to reach full production until 2019, and targets production of more than 2,400 jets by 2040. All of those figures may be affected by fiscal and political considerations.