(Recasts with comments from Pentagon top weapons buyer, RIAT
By Andrea Shalal
RAF FAIRFORD, England, July 10 The Pentagon's
chief weapons buyer told lawmakers there was "growing evidence"
that an engine fire on an Air Force F-35A jet last month was not
a systemic issue, which sources familiar with the situation said
could pave the way for officials to lift an order grounding the
fleet of warplanes.
The Pratt & Whitney engine on one of Lockheed Martin
Corp.'s Joint Strike Fighters broke apart and caught
fire while preparing to take off from a Florida air base on
Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall said on Thursday that
all existing engines had been inspected and that no issues
similar to the one that caused the engine failure were found,
but an examination of the affected engine was continuing.
"We really want to get at the root cause of this to
determine exactly what caused it," Kendall told a hearing of the
House Armed Services Committee.
"There's a growing body of evidence that this may have been
an individual situation, not a systemic one. But we don't know
that for certain at this point in time," he added.
Two sources familiar with the situation said U.S. and
foreign officials could agree to resume flights of the F-35 jets
soon but would probably require regular inspections of the
engine part involved in the June fire.
Lifting the grounding order now would allow a small number
of F-35s to travel across the Atlantic to appear in one of two
air shows this month, possibly as early as Saturday, the sources
Organizers of Britain's Royal International Air Tattoo
(RIAT) on Thursday said the planes would not appear at their
event, which they describe as the world's largest military
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said on Wednesday
that while the F-35 might miss the Air Tattoo, he was optimistic
it would fly at the Farnborough International Airshow, which
starts on July 14.
The F-35 is the world's biggest arms program at $398.6
billion, and failure to appear at both the Air Tattoo and
Farnborough show could undermine export interest in the jet just
as several countries including Canada and Denmark, both of which
helped fund development of the plane, are weighing orders.
Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, who runs
the F-35 program for the Pentagon, told reporters in England
that safety was paramount and that U.S. and UK authorities were
waiting for more data before allowing flights of the F-35 fleet
Bogdan said he was glad the incident occurred on the ground
and that the pilot and emergency crew were not injured. He said
it was easier to deal with an issue early in the program, when
there are about 150 engines in production or already delivered,
as opposed to later when thousands of engines will be in use.
He said the program remained fundamentally on track despite
the incident, given the additional margins included during a
(Additional reporting by Mark Potter; editing by Jane Baird)