The controversial F-22 Raptor stealth fighter programme of the United States Air Force has flown into fresh controversy with a whistleblower lawsuit by an engineer formerly employed by Lockheed Martin, maker of the stealth jet, alleging that the company had provided the fighter with "defective" stealth coatings. The programme has already been scrapped by defence secretary Robert Gates, but is facing rearguard action from members of the US Congress who are insisting on reinstating the programme fearing job losses in their constituencies.
Gates has received firm backing from the Obama administration, which has threatened to veto the defence bill as approved by the Congress, which includes provisions for extra production of the controversial aircraft even after it reaches the approved production figure of 187.
Now the freshly revived three-year old lawsuit by ex-employee Darrol Olsen is all set to add fresh fuel to the fire.
Though no reports have ever surfaced in the public domain about problems relating to stealth features of the fighter, it has been known that maintenance of the aircraft is indeed an issue, with the stealth coating also having safety related problems. In March 2008, a Raptor sustained a million dollar damage after a small strip of stealth coating inside the engine nacelle came unstuck and was ingested by the fan blades of the P&W F119 engine.
According to a lawsuit, filed in US District Court in California, Darrol O Olsen states that between 1995 and 1999 the company knowingly used "coatings that Lockheed knew were defective". He claims Lockheed covered up its problem with defective coatings by applying 272kg (600lb) worth of extra layers.
By way of credentials, Olsen points out 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 Lockheed's F-22 team.