A total of 46 F-35 stealth fighters are currently without functioning engines due to an ongoing problem with the heat-protective coating on their turbine rotor blades becoming worn out faster than was expected. With the engine maintenance center now facing a backlog on repair work, frontline F-35 fleets have been hit, with the U.S. Air Force’s fleet facing the most significant availability shortfall.
At a hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces yesterday, Air Force Lieutenant General Eric T. Fick, director of the F-35 Joint Program Office, confirmed that 41 U.S. Air Force F-35s, as well as one Joint Strike Fighter belonging to the U.S. Marine Corps, another from the U.S. Navy, and three that had been delivered to foreign air forces were grounded without engines. Those figures were as of July 8.
The exact breakdown of how many of each F-35 variant lack engines is unclear. The Air Force and the Navy only fly the F-35A and F-35C, respectively, but the Marines operate both F-35Bs and F-35Cs and various models are in service with other military forces around the world.
It is worth remembering too, of course, that the F-35 enterprise almost had an alternative engine to the F135. However, the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 turbofan was deemed to be an unnecessary expense and was eventually canceled in 2011, when the project was over 80 percent complete. With the benefit of hindsight, it can well be imagined that an alternative source of engines would be very valuable right now.