WASHINGTON — An F-35 fighter crashed Friday while on a training flight — one day after the historically expensive aircraft conducted its first wartime strike for the U.S. military.
It was the first crash in the long history of development, testing and use of the multi-billion aircraft, which originated more than a decade ago.
Pentagon officials said a Marine Corps F-35B went down near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina. The pilot ejected to safety.
The Friday crash and the Thursday military strike come 12 years after production of the F-35 began in 2006. Costs of the program vary, but estimates have concurred that it has become the most expensive weapons program in U.S. defense history. The exact target of the F-35B in Afghanistan was not disclosed.
The plane has been grounded several times during testing because of a swath of issues. Earlier this week, a Navy F-35C made an emergency landing at the civilian airport in Fresno, California, Navy officials said Tuesday.
The Marine Corps version that crashed is the F-35B, the version that is designed to accommodate short takeoffs and vertical landings. It was a F-35B that hit a Taliban target in Afghanistan from its base on the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship, the Pentagon said.
A few hours before the crash, the Pentagon announced that Lockheed Martin, which builds the fighter, agreed to lower the price for the next purchase round.
The F-35B will now cost $115.5 million per unit, down from 5.7 percent from the $122.4 million price tag per unit in the previous purchase, the Pentagon said.
The Air Force version and the model used by most foreign nations, the F-35A, will cost roughly $89.2 million per unit. That is a 5.4 percent reduction from the $94.3 million in the last purchase, according to the Pentagon.
The price of the Navy version, the F-35C, will drop from $121.2 million to $107.7 million per unit, down 11.1 percent, the Pentagon said.
Development of the F-35 has been supported by several nations who plan to purchase the fighter. They include Turkey, where the sales are in question because of Ankara’s plans to acquire a Russian S-400 air defense system.
Among the nations using the F-35 is Israel. According to news reports, Israeli officials said one of their F-35s made the fighter’s international combat debut in May when Israeli pilots conducted an operational strike in Syria.