The Marine Corps grounded all aircraft after the F-35 disappeared
WASHINGTON — All Marine Corps aircraft, inside and outside the United States, were grounded Monday after an F-35 stealth plane He disappeared under mysterious circumstances In South CarolinaThis was based on an order issued by General Eric Smith, Acting Commander of the Marine Corps.
Navy aircraft deployed overseas or with imminent missions could delay the order briefly, but they are expected to be grounded for two days this week, officials said.
The Pentagon said in a statement that the temporary pause in operations will allow units to “discuss aviation safety issues and best practices.” Naval Command will use this pause “to ensure that the service maintains operational uniformity of combat-ready aircraft with well-trained pilots and crews.”
“During the safety downtime, aviation commanders will lead discussions with their Marines focusing on the fundamentals of safe flight operations, ground safety, maintenance and flight procedures, and maintaining combat readiness,” the statement said.
The Marine Corps and Joint Base Charleston, an air force base in North Charleston, South Carolina, were working Sunday to locate the F-35B Lightning II — which has a price tag of about $80 million — after the pilot safely exited the plane. An air base spokesman said he was in stable condition on Monday at the medical center.
A debris field was located about two and a half hours northeast of the base, officials said Monday evening.
Two defense officials said Monday that although the plane was on autopilot when the pilot ejected, it did not have the range or ability to fly for such a long period without refueling.
It is not yet clear why the pilot left the plane.
Retired Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, a former NATO supreme commander and F-16 pilot, said the Army maintains a “very structured approach to investigating incidents.” He noted that a retreat is not unusual after such an incident.
He added that the Marines would likely establish an investigative panel to immediately begin gathering evidence, and a long-term group of aircraft investigators would address the broader scope of human, operational and maintenance factors.
“Once we interview the pilot, we’ll know pretty much everything,” said Breedlove, a trained aviation investigator. “Since he’s alive, there’s no point in speculating on this. They’ll know exactly what happened very quickly, and I would caution everyone to wait rather than speculate.”
Breedlove stressed that the F-35 has an “exceptional” safety record.
The decision to ground all aircraft also comes after two fatal Marine crashes last month. that F-18 pilot died During a training flight near San Diego, three Marines were killed and others were wounded When an Osprey plane crashed off the coast of Australia. The Pentagon referred to the two previous incidents in its statement on Monday.
Joint Base Charleston said in a statement that it was coordinating search efforts with the Marine Corps and Navy. It was also working with the Federal Aviation Administration, Civil Air Patrol and local law enforcement throughout South Carolina, using “ground and air assets” to assist in the search.
The aircraft belongs to one of the training squadrons of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, the main aviation unit on the East Coast of the US Marine Corps.
“Search and recovery efforts for the aircraft are continuing, and we are grateful to the agencies assisting in this effort,” said Capt. Joe Lightner, spokesman for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. “The incident is currently under investigation.”
It remains unclear why the Marines and federal authorities were unable to track the plane, which carried some of the latest technology and software purchased by the federal government. That has angered some members of Congress who have criticized the cost of the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter program, the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program to date.
“I think the problem with tracking it is that it’s subtle, it’s supposed to be invisible,” said Mark Cancian, a retired Marine colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a national security think tank. “If some civilian airport was tracking it, that would be a problem.”
However, Cancian noted that the F-35 was a “very controversial program” because of its cost.
Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington State, likened the program to a financial “loophole” in 2021 during a virtual event at the Brookings Institution. His office declined to comment Monday.
“What does the F-35 offer us?” asked Smith, who was then the House Armed Services Chairman. “Is there a way to reduce our losses? Is there a way to not keep spending a lot of money for this low capacity? Because the sustainment costs are brutal.”
The Department of Defense expects to spend $1.7 trillion to purchase, operate and maintain the plane and its systems throughout its life, according to the Government Accountability Office. Report published in May. Program procurement costs have also increased by $13.4 billion since the last estimate was made in 2019.
Coby and Gaines reported from Washington and McCausland from New York City.