WASHINGTON: Here’s today’s news: the rotor failure that ripped apart an F-35A June 23 last year caused $50 million in damage to the aircraft, the Air Force’s Accident Investigation Board said today.
Here’s the official version of what happened to the Air Force’s Joint Strike Fighter. “The engine failed when the third stage forward integral arm of a rotor fractured and liberated during the takeoff roll,” the investigation found. “Pieces of the failed rotor arm cut through the engine’s fan case, the engine bay, an internal fuel tank, and hydraulic and fuel lines before exiting through the aircraft’s upper fuselage. Damage from the engine failure caused leaking fuel and hydraulic fluid to ignite and burn the rear two thirds of the aircraft. The total mishap damage is estimated to be in excess of $50 million.”
Here’s the more important news in the long term. Two F-35As are taking part in this week’s Green Flag West exercises at Nellis Air Force Base for the first time, along with A-10s and F-16s, Nellis commander (and F-35 pilot) Maj. Gen Jay Silveria told me. The planes aren’t using ordnance but are using their sensors to find and target the enemies — based on the sort of capabilities Russia and China boast — and then are sharing data with the older airplanes who kill them.
“We are continuing to expand our integration with other players,” Silveria said. And he was supposed to fly an F-35 with F-22s last Saturday. Also, he said the F-35s will be executing Close Air Support sorties this week to work out tactics, techniques and procedures.
And that brings us to what may be the biggest news in the longest term. The publication governing operations of the Joint Strike Fighter will be just that — joint. Joint Publication 3.1 will be oversee by the Air Force, Silveria told me, but the Marines will write and be responsible for the CAS chapter (chapter six) and the Navy will write the chapter on maritime interdiction. While there have been joint weapons before, very few of them involve more than two services. As far as more than a dozen people I spoke with at the Pentagon — and Silveria — know, this is the first time such an important weapon system will be governed by a truly joint publication.
And it won’t only be for the US services. Once the US publication is written and approved, Silveria said the US-only sections will be cleaned out and the partner countries and others who buy the F-35 will receive the publication.
Also, the threat files — the “mission data files” detailing possible threats the F-35 will face in its different theaters — are being compiled and shared jointly.
“The mission data file is also driving us closer. That will force that continued collaboration,” Silveria said. So the CONOPs will be joint for US forces and all those other countries will know how to fight with the US. That’s an impressive air package for any enemy to face.