With a whistleblower lawsuit against Lockheed Martin grabbing headlines for making the startling allegation that the US Air Force's top-of-the-line fighter, the F-22 Raptor, has been supplied defective stealth coatings, further information is now emerging from Pentagon sources that the F-22 programme is indeed the source of substantial worry for the defence establishment.
Internal documents, as well as Pentagon officials, reveal that Lockheed Martin's F-22 now requires more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour that it spends in the skies. This adverse ratio effectively pushes its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, which easily outstrips the cost of keeping other fighters in the skies – those which the Raptor is meant to replace.
Seemingly lending credence to whistleblower ex-employee Darrol Olsen's claims, that the company knowingly used "coatings that Lockheed knew were defective," are reports that not only are these coatings susceptible to peeling off but also that they are vulnerable to rains and other abrasion. Olsen claims that Lockheed covered up its problem with defective coatings by applying 272kg (600lb) worth of extra layers.
Pentagon sources say that these problems have been bedevilling the aircraft since the mid-1990s. (See: Lawsuit claims Lockheed's F-22 Raptor has defective stealth coatings )
Local media reports reveal that even as most aircraft fleets become easier and less costly to repair as they mature, the reverse is the case with the F-22. On an average, the Defense Department acknowledged this week, just 55 per cent of the deployed F-22 fleet was available to fulfil stipulated missions in the period from October last year to this May.
The F-22 has never flown in combat missions over Iraq or Afghanistan.