The F-35 Lightning II makes its first appearance March 10, 2014, at Luke Air Force Base.

The F-35 Lightning II makes its first appearance March 10, 2014, at Luke Air Force Base. Staff Sgt. Darlene Seltmann

Air Force Grounds Most F-35s in US Due to Faulty Ejection Seats

The extraordinary stand-down order from Air Combat Command does not cover every fighter in the fleet, overseas, or other service branches.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 4:27 p.m. July 29.

The U.S. Air Force has grounded the majority of its F-35s in the continental United States, temporarily taking its most advanced combat fighter jets out of service to inspect faulty ejection seats, the service said Friday.

Military officials recently found issues with explosive cartridges in some aircraft used to propel a pilot’s ejection seat out of the fighter jet. Navy officials on Tuesday said they had found the problem in some of their jets, including several variants of the F/A-18, the E/A-18G Growler, and two training jets.

On Friday, the Air Force disclosed that last week it had ordered inspections of all the F-35’s ejection seats within the next 90 days, according to a spokeswoman for Air Combat Command, the Air Force headquarters that oversees the majority of F-35s based in the United States. 

“Out of an abundance of caution, ACC units will execute a stand-down on July 29 to expedite the inspection process,” Alexi Worley, a service spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. “Based on data gathered from those inspections, ACC will make a determination to resume operations.” 

The Air Force says it has enough replacement explosive cartridges in stock to replace the faulty ones, a service official said. 

Worley did not indicate how long the stand-down is expected to continue. A second Air Force spokeswoman said that the grounding was not fleet wide, but did not specify what jets were affected.

No other Air Force command has publicly issued a similar stand-down. Air Force F-35s based outside of the continental United States but are not overseen by Air Combat Command. Within the United States, F-35s are flown by training and testing commands and the National Guard. Air Force F-35s based in Alaska are overseen by Indo-Pacific Command’s Pacific Air Forces, and jets based in Europe are overseen by U.S. Air Forces in Europe. 

The grounding significantly reduces the number of fifth-generation combat jets available at a time when the Pentagon is trying to project military power against Russia in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this year, the Pentagon deployed F-35s to Eastern Europe.

The Air Force also flies a  fleet of less than 200 F-22 stealth fighters, some of which it wants to retire next year.

Navy and Marine Corps officials have not yet grounded their F-35s. 

The grounding is the latest in a string of military ejection seat issues in recent years. The F-35 ejection seat is made by the British firm Martin-Baker. 

Spokespeople for the Pentagon’s F-35 program office did not respond to a request  for comment.

A spokeswoman for F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin said the company “continues to work closely with the Joint Program Office and customers to ensure safe and effective operations for the F-35 fleet.” The company is also “assisting with seat inspections where appropriate.”

The grounding of ACC’s fighters was first reported by Breaking Defense.

Jennifer Hlad contributed to his report.