Special RAF jet coating wearing off more quickly than expected

Hi-tech coating which makes RAF’s new £100million F-35 fighter jets ‘invisible’ to enemy radar is wearing off more quickly than expected

  • Single-engine jet was given a coating which makes it ‘invisible’ to enemy radar
  • RAF sources say scratches are delaying jets getting put into operational service
  • Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer, have acknowledged defects in the coating 

A problem with Britain’s new £100 million F-35 fighter jet is leaving it susceptible to enemies and making it as visible on their radar as a 747. 

The single-engine jet was given a coating which makes it ‘invisible’ to enemy radar, but it is wearing off quicker than expected with RAF chiefs saying they have to replace it after every flight.

RAF sources are now saying scratches are delaying the jets getting put into operational service when they get shipped from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin. 

Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray making the first ever F-35B Lightning II jet vertical landing on the UK’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in September 

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The Maryland-based company have acknowledged the defects in the coating, called LO or Low Observable, that makes it hard for enemy radars to pick up the jets. 

They also made it clear that the coating does have to be replaced but not at the frequency that the RAF are dealing with. 

Speaking to reporters at Lockheed’s media day on Monday, Jeff Babione acknowledged that they were having a problem with the material.

‘It’s not a human problem; that’s just the result of our ability. We’re approaching the limits of our ability to build some of these things from precise-enough technology,’ Babione said in reaction to unprecedented orders for the jet. 

Babione did admit that human error can sometimes hamper the jets, which are in a way very delicate, with even just a small scratch possibly proving deadly.  

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35, have acknowledged defects in the coating

‘On the other hand, we inadvertently scratch the coating system, and we have to repaint it. Or when the mechanics spray the airplane [with LO coating], not all of it is robotically sprayed. There’s some overspray, and they have to go clean that,’ he said. 

An RAF source told The Express: This situation obviously has to be rectified before the plane enters operational service.’

The source also told the paper that defence secretary Gavin Williamson and RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen have always known about the issue.  

The worrying news comes as Britain signed a deal to double its F35 fleet by 2022 but the Lockheed Martin boss assured journalists that perfecting the special coating is ‘a huge, huge priority.’ 

The multi-million-pound contract signed will see the UK own 35 stealth jets by end of 2022 with Britain manufacturing 15% of the overall global order for 255 aircraft. 

A company spokesman for Lockheed Martin told The Express that the coating is proving to be a significant success because of its practical strong points of speed and low cost. 

Despite this, Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, a former director of defence studies said: ‘Lockheed Martin just say it’s better now, but it takes just one scratch to give the fighter jet the same radar profile as a 747, then you may as well not be bothering.’ 

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