Engine fire triggers new turbulence for Lockheed's F-35 jet
By Andrea Shalal
RAF FAIRFORD, England, July 10 (Reuters) - Borne of the last downturn in U.S. military spending in the 1990s, Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was intended as a quick and affordable way for the United States and its allies to replace thousands of aging F-16s and other warplanes while avoiding the pitfalls of earlier programs.
Nearly two decades and a $166 billion jump in projected costs later, the world's largest arms program was poised for a high-profile international debut at two British air shows when the Pratt & Whitney engine on one of the jets broke apart and caught fire during a takeoff from a Florida air base.
The incident has grounded the existing fleet of 97 F-35 jets and triggered a fresh wave of criticism about the costly new warplane, although U.S. and British officials are underscoring their continued commitment to the program, which now has a revised price tag of $398.6 billion.
The latest engine issue came weeks after an in-flight oil leak that sparked a brief grounding in June, but U.S. officials remain hopeful the jet will at least fly at the bigger of the two UK events - the Farnborough Airshow that starts on July 14.
Lockheed's F-35 program manager Lorraine Martin told reporters that the planes would miss the first day of the Royal International Air Tattoo air show, but could still arrive in time to fly at the event, which continues through July 12. She said Lockheed had spare parts on hand at the air field in case they were needed.
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on Wednesday said the F-35 may miss the Air Tattoo given the grounding order, but said he was optimistic that the plane would fly at Farnborough.
It would be a huge embarrassment if it misses that show too, and could undermine export interest in the jet just as several countries including Canada and Denmark, both of which helped fund development of the jet, are weighing F-35 orders.