* Follows failure of an F-35's integrated power package
* Program is U.S.'s costliest arms purchase
* Eight other countries involved in F-35's development
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Aug 3 The U.S. Defense Department
suspended fleetwide ground and flight test operations on
Wednesday of Lockheed Martin Corp's (LMT.N) F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter aircraft, its costliest arms purchase and largest
international cooperative program. .
The department acted after the failure on Tuesday of one
aircraft's "integrated power package", a turbo-machine that
starts the engine and cools the plane, the Pentagon's F-35
Joint Program Office said.
The office said in a statement that the suspension was a
precautionary measure until experts understand the root causes
of the failure aboard an F-35 conventional takeoff and landing
variant at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
There are three F-35 models, or variants: A conventional
takeoff-and-landing type for the Air Force; a short
takeoff-vertical landing model for the Marine Corps and a
carrier takeoff-and-landing variant for the Navy.
"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," the
These aircraft are part of the system development and
demonstration and low-rate initial production fleet.
The United States is developing the family of radar-evading
F-35s with eight international partners -- Britain, Italy, the
Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.
It is currently projected to cost the United States more
than $382 billion to buy a total of 2,443 F-35 models over the
next two decades. Other countries, including the co-development
partners, are expected to buy roughly another 750 aircraft.
The F-35 is projected by Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's
No. 1 supplier by sales, to account for more than 20 percent of
its revenues once the Pentagon starts full production runs,
likely in another few years.
The program had built enough "margin" into the test
schedule to accommodate "these kinds of incidents that occur in
a development effort," the Pentagon statement said.
Periodic updates on the matter will be released as
warranted, it said.
Lockheed Martin is supporting the review efforts 100
percent, said Michael Rein, a company spokesman.
"We are working very hard with all involved to resolve this
issue so we can begin flight operations again which is
everyone's goal," he said.
F-35 competitors for international sales include Boeing
Co's (BA.N) F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Saab's Gripen, Dassault's
Rafale, Russia's MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-35 and the Eurofighter
Typhoon made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and
Lockheed's chief F-35 subcontractors are Northrop Grumman
Corp [NOC.N] and BAE Systems Plc (BAES.L). United Technologies
Corp's (UTX.N) Pratt & Whitney unit is building the engine.
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Carol Bishopric )