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F-35 Joint Strike Fighters Grounded

by John Reed on August 4, 2011

A but of bad luck has struck the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program just as the first production jets are hitting the fleet. The fleet of 20 test and training jets has been grounded following a failure of an F-35A test jet’s Intergrated Power Package during an Aug. 2 ground test.

The IPP combines the auxiliary power unit, emergency power system and environmental controls. No one knows what caused the system to fail on test jet AF-4, (shown above).

Here’s the text of a JSF program office announcement on the grounding:

Yesterday, at approximately 8:30 a.m. PDT during a standard ground maintenance engine run, aircraft AF-4’s Integrated Power Package (IPP) experienced a failure. Following standard operating procedures, the engine was immediately shut down and the jet was secured. No injuries to the pilot or ground crew occurred. The F-35’s IPP is a turbo-machine that provides power to start the engine and generates cooling for the aircraft.

The government and contractor engineering teams are reviewing the data from the incident to determine the root cause of the failure. Implementing a precautionary suspension of operations is the prudent action to take at this time until the F-35 engineering, technical and system safety teams fully understand the cause of the incident. Once the facts are understood, a determination will be made when to lift the suspension and begin ground and flight operations of the 20 F-35s currently in flying status. These aircraft are part of the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) and Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) fleet.

Determinations of root cause and potential mitigating actions have the highest priority of the F-35 Team. Impact to SDD execution and production operations is being assessed. The program has built schedule margin into the test schedule to accommodate these kinds of incidents that occur in a development effort. Periodic updates concerning this situation will be released as warranted.

Sister site DoDBuzz makes the interesting point that this incident combined with the grounding of the F-22 Raptors means that the U.S.’ entire fleet of fifth generation fighters is out of action.

This is the second time that the F-35 fleet has been grounded due to a problem with AF-4’s power system. The jets were benched in March after the conventional take off variant experienced a generator failure in flight.

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

jhm August 4, 2011 at 4:32 pm

hopefully all the teething problems will present themselves at the early stage, not in active squadron service.

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Enrico August 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I hope that it'll be the case, but I'm somehow doubtful about it considering the problems that are still plaguing F-22…

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mpower6428 August 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm

ugh, here we go.

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Joe Schmoe August 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm

You're welcome for the tip-off :)

This 5th generation fighter business is getting to be ridiculous. Why aren't the UAV's having the same problems?

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Chops August 4, 2011 at 6:27 pm

I mentioned yesterday afternoon that it was reported by Aviation Week then I looked today and my tip-off was deleted

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William C. August 4, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Mainly because nobody is designing a UAV with STOVL, supersonic performance, BVR air-to-air capabilites, etc.

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Joe Schmoe August 4, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Please…

There are several UAV's in the pipeline with all those abilities (except for the STOVL), and the F-35 problem happened on the A version.

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chaos0xomega August 5, 2011 at 12:24 am

I don't know of any that are seriously being looked at. In any case, 'in the pipeline' doesn't mean they are in any way shape or form actually flying. Its hard to compare a UAV thats in the prototype stage with a production model.

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Mister Rose August 5, 2011 at 8:31 am

I recall reading here that UAV are having the same problems. Wasn't there a report that mentioned that dozens of UAVs have failed in flight and been lost. You don't hear about them because they are drones and there is no pilot to rescue.

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ncb1010 August 6, 2011 at 12:54 am

They do have the same problems. People just don't really care if they crash or not.

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Sam August 4, 2011 at 6:39 pm

This plane is costing the American taxpayer way more than it's worth. We'd be better off buying more F22s and Super Hornets and upgrading both. This F-35 is nothing more that welfare for the defense industry.

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Roy Smith August 4, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Didn’t you read the part in the article about the F-22′s also being grounded. ALL of our 5th generation aircraft are grounded.

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Black Owl August 4, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Upgraded Super Hornets would do the same job better for much less money, but the U.S. Air Force is too obsessed with what's cool and not what's effective to actually think clearly. Retards.

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jhm August 4, 2011 at 11:44 pm

Pit those against su pak fas.

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Ben August 5, 2011 at 12:37 am

5th Generation stealth aircraft are becoming the new standard and they will HAVE to be in order to maintain total air dominance in the next 10+ years. If you can't understand that then you're the retard.

Super Hornets would not be able to stand up against PAK FA's. Even against Su-35's you'd be cutting it a little too close for comfort. If you want bring your men back alive you need to be well ahead of the competition.

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Enrico August 5, 2011 at 2:31 am

PAK FA is still a long way from being completed but effectively US should try to keep the edge since they started producing 5th generation fighters before Russia and China. Surely Boeing wouldn't be pleased of hearing your claims since they deny the very concept of 5th generation aircraft (well, effectively Lockheed Martin denies that vector thrusting is necessary to have this label just because F-35 lacks it…).

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Tiger August 5, 2011 at 2:46 am

Air Dominance? You Fighting refighting the the Battle of Britain or something? ONE carrier Air wing is the size of most air forces. Plus the current bad guys of the month prefer airliners to MIG's.

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Black Owl August 5, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I hope you guys realize that the Upgraded Super Hornet might stand a much better chance of defeating a PAK-FA than both the F-22 and maybe the F-35. Of course these factors heavily depend on the level of stealth that the PAK-FA has against the F-22's APG-77 radar.

The weakness of the F-22 is that it does not have an Infra-red scanner (unless you call opening the weapons' bay and locking onto something with your AIM-9 an infra-red scanner, which would immediately cause you to reflect radar waves and lose your stealth if you left the bay open.) This would greatly reduce it's ability to find stealth aircraft since it will only rely on its radar. The Super Hornet has a new IRST sensor pod that's being developed by Lockheed with state of the art capabilities.

All of equipment that the F-35 has can have equivalent systems mounted on the Super Hornet at a cheap price such as spherical scanning, internally mounted stealthy IRST, and high end communications. Boeing showed that the International road map Super Hornet will be as stealthy as the F-35 from the front, however not from the sides or rear. The F-35 is not stealthy from the rear either and it's engine is extremely hot which will cause it to easily show up on infra-red scanners like the ones mounted on both the Su-35 and the PAK-FA pretty well if they happen to spot if from the rear. (I think the number was 60 degrees Celcius hotter than an F-16 engine, but I am not sure and will need to look that up later. We know it's hot enough to melt the deck of an aircraft carrier.) If you take these into account the only advantage that the F-35 has over the Super Hornet with International upgrades is that it is stealthy from the sides and is disadvantage by the fact that it has a super hot engine. Also the F-35 can only use AIM-120 AMRAAMs, which are again guided by radar, to fight if it wants to maintain its stealthy profile. The Super Hornet with International upgrades is only marginally less capable than the F-35 in that regard. However, that is only in the arena of stealth. In all other performance factors (agility, speed, power, wing loading) it is actually better than the F-35. Let's also consider that you could build two or three, maybe even four of them for the price of one F-35 and deploy them in larger enough numbers to easily have several more Super Hornets for every PAK-FA that the enemy could produce. (We still don't the official unit price for the Lightning II by the way, but we do know that is going to be above 122 million for the cheapest model, the F-35A. while the F/A-18E/F's price keeps dropping and it is now in the low 40 million dollar price range. The International Upgrades might potentially bring it back up the high 40 millions, but that's just my estimate.)

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JoeC August 25, 2011 at 9:39 pm

This makes so much sense that it's amazing that our political leaders don't see this.

We need to start saving money in the defense budget and cancelling the JSF and buying Super Hornets instead seems like an excellent way to accomplish some of that.

Good post.

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Tod Glenn August 5, 2011 at 12:53 am

If we are fighting Chinese or Russian fighters, we have bigger issues than air superiority. An aircraft that is going to cost more than the GDP of Australia. This is a boondoggle that putting taxpayer money into the pockets of defense contractors, not serving America.

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guest August 5, 2011 at 2:50 am

And yet the V-22 Osprey is still flying. Eat that hate club…..

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superraptor August 5, 2011 at 10:01 am

There have been concerns about cooling issues with the F-35. Hopefully the IPP failure is not related to that as if potentially could put the F-35 program on hold for an extended period of time.

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Mark O'Connell August 5, 2011 at 11:33 am

Am I the only one thinking this "power unit failure? Isn't this the same thing that scrubbed most of the scrubbed schuttle launches?" So why can't we build one that works? How hard can it really be? If it's the same part (each time) fix it so it can't do it anymore.

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superraptor August 5, 2011 at 1:15 pm

that's why the F-35 is called the Joint Power Point fighter. You have more marketeers working on it than engineers.

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Jay August 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm

If I ran the pentagon I would refuse to entertain any contracts form companies that send salesmen and marketers over. I would insist on having actual engineers give me an accurate assessment of what their product can do and an accurate cost.

The salesmen types are trying to sell the pentagon gear that is newer and better with all the bells and whistles for low low prices, and the engineers are trying to make what the salesmen sold, but in reality it's way more expensive than the quote.

If there was a real war on, the marketing types would all get fired or worse.

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SJE August 5, 2011 at 3:37 pm

The Congress has its knives out for cutting, and the F35 program is starting to look like the next thing on the chopping block. This is a matter of months, not years. Its like the cow that eats a lot but doesnt give any milk.

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Brian Kirkpatrick August 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Situations like this become exponentially more likely as the complexity of a given system increases. While modern technology is a great thing, there's something to be said for limited-purpose and highly-robust platforms (like, say, the A10). As costs increase, fewer systems can be purchased–requiring those systems to perform more and more types of mission. Throw into that mix the fact that such systems are assembled from subsystems built in multiple locations by the lowest bidder, in a budget-tight situation in which integration tests are the first thing to be skipped, and you are begging for problems like these. It's a shame the F-22 appears to be prone to similar issues. They can be overcome, but doing so without increasing an already-overrun budget and schedule is a very difficult problem indeed.

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roland August 6, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Now gates is retire and were on recession, we can probably say ground it and make more YF-23

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blight August 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Sponsored by Northrop Grumman.

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Robert A. Fritts August 6, 2011 at 10:57 pm

1.The 1st post on this thread stated "I hope they work out all the problems in the early stages". My question is when in the 2nd decade of a program does the "early" stage end?
2. Time to start taking care of the USA only. All these posts about "Air Dominance". We need just enough for Air Dominance over North America.
I fought in Asia, Latin America, Africa and even Europe(Balkens). That time is long gone, or should be. The Chinese want to dominate East Asia, thats a Japanese and Korean problem. Iran takes over the Persian Gulf thats a Saudi and UAE problem. Muslims continue to invade Europe, thats a French, German, Dutch and Spanish problem. Lets stop this Camelot charade.

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Tim August 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm

The problem for the USAF is by the time the f22 and JSF are truly fully operational with all possible missions covered the UCAV programme will be ready to deploy . It would be far better to spec up with JSF electronics and radar a whole new bunch of super hornets and make sure the F22 works than waste trillions on the very average JSF .

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hugh August 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm

new developments in countermeasures, radar, is lessening stealth advantage. will the F35 be effective against ALL competitors aircraft? placing all eggs (F35) in one basket may not be the winning combination. too late to assign the F35 to another manufacturer, let lockheed build the C130.

.

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blight August 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm

The new counter-stealth technology requires a huge capital investment for mass implementation that seems as difficult as our mass deployment of stealth technology.

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guest August 19, 2011 at 7:24 am

And it even doesn't make a decent cup of coffee

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Maxtrue1 August 5, 2011 at 11:13 am

The future is clear: DEW, hypersonics, kinetics, the very high altitudes, mini-reactors to power the weapons, better materials and stealth, scram/ram engines, drones and advanced electronics. I suspect our research is very robust when compared to other nations. Budget cuts had better drain the waste and fraud out of the DOD.

I agree with Blight that we need to do the R & D which we are doing with the X-37b, X-51 and other advanced projects. And there is another reason to keep things in the black: our adversaries.

However the LCS and the advanced fighter programs seem a bit mismanaged. What makes anyone think Russia and China don't have these problems. I noticed weeks ago the rumor of a Chinese nuclear sub incident. Russians have been having trouble with their ballistic missile program.

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tiger August 5, 2011 at 11:35 am

The only problem is that having a force of fighters costing $60 million a pop; it does not leave you with much money for other stuff. THE USAF needs Tankers badly. The flying 1955 Chevy that is the B-52 can't forever. A A-10 replacement for CAS would be nice. The Navy Is replacing the P-3 force & has nothing to replace the S-3. You need a whole force, not just fighters. That does not even touch the whole UAV thing.

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blight August 5, 2011 at 11:58 am

You may be thinking of Hammer's Slammers, but I'm sure more than one person has predicted the doom of small aircraft.

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blight August 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm

The carrier deck of the Cold War was the Hawkeye, Corsair, the Crusader, the Prowler, the Intruder and the Viking and the Tomcat. I may have missed a few.

Since then, Corsair, Crusader, Intruder, Viking and Tomcat have disappeared for the Hornet and Super Hornet. Prowler is probably ready to go soon, and will be replaced by the Growler.

The carrier-based force will be the Hornet, Super Hornet, Hawkeye, (future JSF), plus the miscellaneous types. I've always wondered if many of those types were redundant to begin with, but did we give something up and not replace it…?

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Joe Schmoe August 5, 2011 at 3:29 pm

ASW aircraft. I guess the brass expects helicopters to fill that role (and they may be right).

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