Israel to evaluate F-35 fighters as US grounds its fleet over faulty ejector seats

IDF says Air Force commander will make decision in coming days over fate of 5th generation stealth jets, but currently assesses risk as ‘low’

An Israeli F-35 fighter jet takes off during the military's Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli F-35 fighter jet takes off during the military's Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Air Force will evaluate its advanced F-35 fighters in the coming days after the United States grounded most of their fleet of the 5th generation jets due to a problem with their ejector seats, the IDF said Saturday.

“The Air Force received information about a safety finding in the ejection seats in the F-35 array that is assessed as low risk. In addition, a directive was received to carry out tests during the next 90 days,” the IDF said.

“Israel was coordinating its response with the US military and the F-35 Joint Program Office,” the military said, noting that a decision on possibly also grounding the Israeli fleet would be taken in the coming days by Air Force commander Tomer Bar.

The US Air Force on Friday said it was temporarily grounding its F-35 fleet.

US Air Combat Command units “will execute a stand-down on July 29 to expedite the inspection process,” said spokeswoman Alexi Worley, adding that the move was taken out of an “abundance of caution.”

The problems relate to a problem with the cartridges used to blast out the ejector seats in the event of an emergency.

The jet’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, said it was working “closely” with the Joint Program Office and customers on the seat ejector issue to “ensure safe and effective operations.”

“We are assisting with seat inspections where appropriate,” it added.

F-35 Lightning II Aircraft assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington Air National Guard Base, prepare for takeoff, in Burlington, Vermont, April 13, 2022. (Staff Sgt. Cameron Lewis/U.S. Air National Guard via AP)

Air Force Times reported Friday that the US first discovered the problem in April, but waited three months to ground the plane while they investigated the issue.

Seat manufacturer Martin-Baker said the problem was “traced back to a gap in the manufacturing process, which was addressed and changed.”

The defective part was loose and missing the magnesium powder used to ignite the propellant that shoots someone to safety, Martin-Baker spokesman Steve Roberts told Air Force Times.

The report said that since the problem was first discovered, the US had tested 2,700 F-35 ejection seat cartridges and found three failures.

Individual US jets will return to service after passing inspection.

Grounding its F-35 fleet would be a major blow to the IAF.

The fifth-generation F-35 has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the military, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.

Israel has agreed to purchase at least 50 F-35 fighter jets from the US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. So far, 33 aircraft have been delivered, and the remaining planes are slated to arrive in batches of twos and threes until 2024.

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