(Adds comment from Norwegian official)
By Andrea Shalal
FARNBOROUGH, England, July 16 The engine failure
that grounded Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets and
the warplane's now-cancelled appearance at two UK air shows
provided key "lessons learned" for the companies that build the
jets, and the military forces that use them.
While the outcome was disappointing for air show visitors
and many people involved in the F-35 program, U.S. military and
industry officials said both the engine incident and air show
planning allowed them to learn a lot about handling future
problems and taking the jets overseas.
The $400 billion weapons program is the world's largest
single arms project and encompasses three different U.S.
military services, eight countries that helped fund the plane's
development, two other foreign militaries, and a separate
Pentagon office, as well as three separate aircraft models.
U.S. military officials on Tuesday announced that they had
approved limited flights of the F-35 jets but imposed mandatory
engine inspections and various flight restrictions, and banned
the planned flights to Farnborough air show.
The latest grounding - the program's 12th to date - was not
the longest, but it was complicated by the fact that U.S. and
British jets were due to leave for Britain just days after the
Pratt & Whitney F135 engine on an Air Force jet broke
apart and caught fire at a Florida Air Force base on June 23.
Strict Air Force protocols for safety investigations - which
include quarantining the affected jet - also meant that
engineers from the Pentagon and engine maker Pratt did not have
access to the affected jets for days, which slowed efforts to
get the jets flying again.
Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed's
aeronautics division, told Reuters on Wednesday that Lockheed
and its key suppliers learned a great deal while preparing for
what would have been the F-35's first foreign deployment,
building on the planes' first deployments to the USS Wasp for
testing in 2011 and 2013.
He said Lockheed developed detailed plans for transporting
and storing spare parts, provided maintenance support and tested
international use of the computerized logistics system called
ALIS that stores mission plans and maintenance data - and all
those systems worked well.
Carvalho said he was less concerned about hashing over what
happened in this incident than ensuring improved procedures to
deal with any future mishaps. Any changes to procedures would be
led by the government in consultation with industry, he said.
"The fundamental question coming out of the last three weeks
is, okay, if this were to occur again, how do we do this
better?" he told Reuters at the Farnborough air show that was
supposed to celebrate the new jet's international debut.
He said differentiated plans were needed to deal with
incidents that affected each separate model, as well as those
that were common to all three.
Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the
Pentagon's F-35 program chief, told reporters earlier this week
the program would review and revamp current communications
procedures about accidents and other safety concerns.
Marine Lieutenant General Jon Davis, who took over as deputy
commandant for aviation on July 1, said the military was used to
doing "after action reports" about what went right and wrong on
any military operation.
"We are going to get smart about how we do things as a joint
program. That will probably be the number one thing that comes
out of this," Davis said. "I can guarantee that we'll come up
with a little bit different construct for the next time around."
Davis said the services' needed to retain the responsibility
for investigating accidents and mishaps, but it was critical to
do that in a way that allowed sharing of information, at an
appropriate level, with affected other operators.
He said the services should also look at ways to ensure
quick sharing of data about pilot training and procedures, as
well as emergency response procedures, as more and more jets are
fielded in a growing number of countries in coming years.
Endre Lunde, F-35 spokesman for Norway's defence ministry,
welcomed the effective safety procedures used in this case.
Lunde said the latest incident had "highlighted some
challenges in how we handle such incidents in a large
multinational program, and we expect that this also will be
subject of review in the time going forward."
Paul Adams, president of Pratt & Whitney, said the fact that
the program was still doing developmental testing while already
producing larger numbers of jets - a practice called concurrency
- had actually helped officials get more insight earlier in the
performance of the engines and other components.
Far more F-35 jets were in use now for testing and training
than is typical at this stage in a normal development program
because of concurrency, he said.
Marine Corps Captain Richard Ulsh said cancellation of the
F-35's appearance at the air was unfortunate for show planners
and visitors, but provided valuable training for the Marines.
"We learned how to logistically support the F-35 on a
different continent and most importantly we safely returned the
aircraft to flight in a relatively short amount of time to
continue training pilots," he said.
(Editing by Mark Potter and Keiron Henderson)