The engine supplier for Lockheed Martin’s highly-sought F-35 fighter jet has suspended deliveries while an investigation into a December accident proceeds, Defense News reported Wednesday, stalling hundreds of planned jet deliveries.
The Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), the Defense Contract Management Agency and engine maker Pratt & Whitney came to a “mutual agreement” to block new engine deliveries on Dec. 27, the JPO told Defense News. The JPO grounded a small group of newer jets after an F-35B variety crashed on a Texas runway earlier that month and is conducting an investigation into the cause of the accident.
The incident involved an F-35B that had recently emerged from the production line completing a routine quality check, according to Defense News. Video taken at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth on Dec. 15 showed the aircraft bouncing off the ground during landing, tipping forward and spinning as its nose and wing touched the ground.
JPO grounded aircraft deemed at higher risk for the malfunction until parties agreed on procedures to allow the aircraft to return to flight, a spokesperson told Defense News.
Lockheed Martin, the company that makes F-35 Lightning II warplanes, suspended flights at its three production sites, including the one in Fort Worth, effectively halting new deliveries, Defense News reported.
The weapons maker had agreed in a Department of Defense (DOD) contract to supply 148 jets in 2022, but ended up producing just 141, Defense News reported. Lockheed told the outlet it had assembled nine outstanding jets, which were awaiting acceptance flights, on Dec. 30.
Up to 6% of the U.S. military’s F-35 warplanes remain grounded at any given time due to inability to sustain Pratt & Whitney-made engines, according to a July report by Government Accountability Office covering the months from Jan. 2021 to Feb. 2022.
In July, the Air Force grounded its fleet of F-35 fighter jets over an issue with the ejection seats, Bloomberg reported.
Despite setbacks, the F-35 program continues to expand. The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin finalized a $30 billion contract to deliver up to 398 new fighter jets to the DOD and partner nations on Dec. 30, according to a statement. DOD tacked on an additional $7.8 billion and 127 jets to an existing contract, including the first planned deliveries for Belgium, Finland and Poland.
“This contract strikes the right balance between what’s best for the U.S. taxpayers, military services, allies and our foreign military sales customers,” the JPO executive officer Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Schmidt said in the statement.
However, the total price for each platform could change while Lockheed and the JPO work out a separate round of negotiations with Pratt & Whitney on engines, according to Aviation Week. Overall cost per aircraft has risen in recent years even as production rate declines, according to the outlet.
Pratt & Whitney did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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