Pentagon blames UK firm for jet failures

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH defence company faces a ban on work for the Pentagon after claims that sub-standard components forced US jets to make dozens of emergency landings.

Lucas Industries, one of the most respected names in defence business, has been at the centre of a Justice Department inquiry into falsifying tests and quality control lapses.

The US Navy is said to have told Pentagon officials that Lucas should be barred from all new military business. Of 167 emergency landings in the past 18 months, half were caused by Lucas components, it is claimed.

The claims are the latest embarrassment for the company, which this week agreed a dollars 12m ( pounds 8m) settlement after admitting that its AUL division at Long Island falsified tests of missile launchers sold to the US Air Force.

Now another division, Lucas Western, in Utah and California, is under criminal investigation. According to the Wall Street Journal, a report sent to the Pentagon said component failures at Western 'have caused engine fires, aborted missions and were factors in the loss of aircraft'.

Lucas yesterday rejected the allegations, saying it had never been told of a link between aircraft problems and its components. The company's chairman, Sir Anthony Gill, is believed to have met US Navy legal officers on Thursday.

Investigations into the company's US operations began three years ago during inquiries into Gulf War 'friendly fire' incidents in which seven US marines were killed. Although Lucas equipment was cleared of any connection with the deaths, other concerns emerged.

Monday's settlement at AUL included the appointment of an independent ethics watchdog reporting directly to the Justice Department. The watchdog will have the power to investigate past and future misdemeanours, quality control and changes in personnel.

The current inquiry into Lucas Western is thought to be nearing completion. The company, which makes gearboxes for the F/A-18 fighter aircraft, reportedly used material in the components which had not been approved by the Pentagon.

The report said to have gone to the Pentagon talked of chipped gears, damaged bearings and metal shavings discovered in the drives. The investigators allege that Lucas employees 'removed rejection tags from defective components' then falsely logged them as acceptable.

Lucas yesterday said it had made a radical overhaul of the Western business, changing the management and introducing new compliance procedures. The allegations against Western are more serious than against AUL and Lucas is bracing itself for a heavier fine. Specific charges against the company are expected within weeks.