October 1, 2010 / 11:48 PM / in 7 years

Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet grounded

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Flight testing of all three models of the F-35 fighter jet, the Pentagon’s costliest arms purchase, has been suspended pending tweaks to the fuel system software, Lockheed Martin Corp, the plane’s manufacturer, said on Friday.

The F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), planes arrive at Edwards Air Force Base in California in this May 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin Corp/Handout

The grounding’s impact on the flight test schedule is unknown, John Kent, a company spokesman, said in an email after the close of markets.

The radar-evading F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, is the Pentagon’s costliest acquisition at a projected total of up to $382 billion for 2,457 planes over the next two decades.

Lockheed said it had discovered, during normal ground testing, a software anomaly that could cause a fuel boost pump to shut down in flight.

The F-35 contains three fuel pumps that feed United Technologies Corp’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engine.

“Although we’ve never experienced this anomaly in any flight condition, we have suspended all flight operations as a precaution,” Kent said.

Lockheed and BAE Systems Plc, the fuel system software developer, “have identified a fix and begun testing that software in our labs,” he said.

BAE and Northrop Grumman Corp are Lockheed’s chief F-35 subcontractors. A competitive, interchangeable engine is being developed by a joint venture of General Electric Co and Rolls-Royce Group Plc.

The United States is co-developing the F-35 with eight foreign partners -- Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. Together, the partners are projected to buy about 730 planes.

(Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Carol Bishopric)

(additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa)

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