Lockheed engineer: F-22 Raptor Stealth tech is 'defective'
Emperor's invisible clothes actually visible shocker
Updated An engineer formerly employed by Lockheed, maker of the famous F-22 Raptor stealth jet, has mounted a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Lockheed has supplied the controversial superfighter with "defective" stealth coatings. The claims are sure to add fuel to the fiery debate raging at present in Washington over whether to cease production of the Raptor.
Raptor shocker. Full hires here.
In the lawsuit, filed in US District Court in California, Darrol O Olsen states that between 1995 and 1999 he witnessed Lockheed knowingly use on Raptors "coatings that Lockheed knew were defective". Olsen says that he was "one of the top... low observables engineers in the stealth technology industry", having worked on the original F-117 stealth fighter and at Northrop on the B-2 stealth bomber before joining the F-22 team.
Olsen further alleges that low-quality stealth coatings have not only worsened the radar and infrared visibility of the F-22, but that they have been a factor in dangerous and expensive accidents - as when a piece of coating broke off and was sucked into an F-22 engine last year, causing over a million dollars of damage.
Olsen goes on to say that such "third-party reports" indicate that the Raptor's stealth protection "has not been remedied through the present date". He says that Lockheed "continued to misrepresent the problems with the F-22's coatings through at least October 2004 and likely to the present date".
Allegations could strengthen Obama's hand in cancelling further Raptor production
At the moment a hard-fought debate is raging in Washington regarding the future of Raptor production. President Obama and his Defense Secretary Robert Gates want to cease manufacture once the US air force has a total of 187 F-22s; however, politicians from districts where the Raptor is made are resisting them. Furthermore, although Gates has managed to partially bring the US airforce to heel by replacing its two top bosses last year, institutionally the service passionately desires a much larger Raptor fleet.
Gates' desire to save money for combat troops by purchasing drones and "affordably stealthy" F-35s, more useful for strike missions, is backed by the other US services for different reasons. Furthermore, the White House has signalled that President Obama may deploy his veto against attempts to maintain the pricey Raptor in production. Nonetheless, it's plain that Gates has a fight on his hands.
A lot of observers have always questioned the need for the Raptor, designed for a Cold War scenario of high-intensity conventional air combat above Europe against Soviet superfighters which never actually appeared. Now Olsen's lawsuit, in at least some eyes, has further called "the justification for the whole [F-22] program" into question, let alone the matter of continued production.
On the other hand, people knowledgeable about stealth technology have always indicated that shape is more important than coatings when building a stealthy aircraft. Olsen's allegations, even if true, may not mean that the F-22's stealthiness is entirely invalidated: and after all, the plane is in service and has already flown in many air-combat exercises.
If its radar cross-section is in fact unacceptably high, one would expect the US armed services to know already - Lockheed couldn't have kept the fact secret to this point. None of this is to suggest that Lockheed wouldn't be in significant trouble - perhaps to the point of massive fines and jailed executives - if Olsen's allegations are true, but dodgy coatings wouldn't on the face of it make the F-22 completely worthless.
After the Reg contacted Lockheed for comment, the firm supplied us with the following statement:
While we are generally aware of the Olsen lawsuit, the Corporation has not yet been served in this matter. We deny Mr. Olsen’s allegations and will vigorously defend this matter if and when it is served.
In summary: Olsen's lawsuit, even if true, wouldn't on its own seem likely to invalidate the whole concept of the Raptor and lead to the plane's withdrawal from service. But it will provide ammunition for critics of the expensive superfighter, strengthening the SecDef's (and the President's) hand in their attempts to shift US defense funding to other areas.
Olsen's legal filing can be read in full below. ®