- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

BOSTON (AP) — The widow of a Navy pilot whose fighter jet was struck by a Patriot missile during the 2003 invasion of Iraq has sued Raytheon Co., charging that the maker of the air defense system was negligent.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Boston, asserts that the Patriot was prone to malfunctions that misidentified U.S. planes as enemy missiles that “occurred with alarming frequency and were well known to Raytheon before the incident.”

A spokesman for Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon said company lawyers had not had a chance to review the case and could not comment, the Boston Globe reported yesterday.

The lawsuit by Lt. Nathan White’s widow, Akiko Ohata White, does not name the Army or other military entities that developed and used the Patriot. It seeks unspecified damages.

The military is immune from most lawsuits by service members and their families. The U.S. Supreme Court said in a 1988 case that government contractors also have broad immunity from liability as long as they follow general specifications.

William O. Angelley, an attorney for Mrs. White and the couple’s three children, acknowledged the difficulty in suing the government, but said the family’s claims against Raytheon have merit based on publicly reported Army investigations of Lt. White’s death.

“Based on our analysis of the Army investigation, it is undisputed that the root cause of this tragedy is a serious design flaw in the Patriot missile system,” he said.

The Globe said it could not immediately reach Mrs. White, who is living in Japan, for comment.

The Patriot, originally designed to shoot down aircraft, gained attention in the first Gulf War when it was used against Iraqi Scud missiles. There later was criticism of its effectiveness and technical improvements were made that military officials said helped it to shoot down all nine Iraqi missiles it targeted during the 2003 campaign.

But there were three friendly fire incidents, two of them fatal, involving the Patriot. Lt. White was killed on April 2, 2003, while returning to his aircraft carrier from a bombing mission. Two British pilots were killed in the second incident.

A report the Army gave to Lt. White’s family in December 2004 said the Patriot system, despite past efforts to correct the problem, frequently gave false symbols of potential targets that soldiers were not properly trained to expect and deal with.

Lt. White’s plane was apparently mixed up with one of the “false tracks” and misidentified, the report said.

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