As the fight over whether to continue production of the F-22 rages on, a recently unsealed qui tam lawsuit raises major questions about its stealth capabilities, one of the key air-superiority features of the fighter jet. If the allegations are true, the justification for the whole program may be in question.
The lawsuit, filed by a Materials and Process engineer specializing in stealth (also known as low-observable materials), accuses Lockheed Martin of fraudulently developing the stealth capability of the F-22 and falsely portraying to the Air Force that the stealth coating on the fighter met specifications. The engineer, relator Darrel O. Olsen, also alleges that the management at Lockheed Martin directed him not to speak to the Air Force about the problems with the coating, and that his advice to modify the coatings or purchase different coatings to meet specifications were ignored due to concerns with meeting contract milestones. While the relator in the case left Lockheed Martin in 1999, the suit claims that third-party sources report that the stealth capability of the F-22 remained dysfunctional through at least 2004, with Lockheed Martin knowingly using defective coatings and never fully disclosing the low observable system defects to the Air Force.
This of course is not the first time that the real and practical capability of the stealth of the F-22 has come into question. Just last February, POGO reported that the maintenance requirements for the stealth capability significantly reduced the F-22's mission capability. As we said at the time, we believed that this may have been one of the primary reasons why then-Defense Department Acquisition Chief John Young said that the F-22's mission capable rate was too low to waste additional taxpayer dollars on further procurement.
-- Mandy Smithberger