Whistleblower Suit Accuses Northrop Grumman of Faking GPS Drone Systems Testing
“... 'Air Force investigators blamed the LN-100 for a crash of a Predator drone carrying a Hellfire missile in the North African Republic of Djibouti.' In that event, 'the device recorded the drone’s altitude to be 400 feet higher than it actually was.' ..."
A manager says the company was lax in making sure its LN-100 unit was up to par
An employee of defense contractor Northrop Grumman has accused the company of faking tests on its LN-100 Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System (INS/GPS). The GPS unit is installed on "various aircraft, including helicopters and unmanned drones (including the Predator drone), missiles, submarines, and other vehicles," the lawsuit said. The LN-100 provides essential positioning data to the sensitive systems.
With a wingspan of 130 ft, it will join others to “provide near worldwide coverage” in 2017.
The case was filed in September 2012 [PDF] by a plant manager named Todd Donaldson, but it was kept under seal from the company and from the public over the following two years. A Utah District Judge ordered the complaint unsealed last Friday. In the suit, Donaldson alleges that Northrop Grumman employees had been faking “pass” results for the LN-100 units, which were then sold to the US government for military and other purposes.
The tests took 10 minutes to run on each LN-100 unit. Donaldson's complaint against Northrop stated that because the LN-100 units typically failed the GPS Communication Test, “Defendant has taken to having its technicians manually key in positive responses, such that the word 'pass' appears on a print-out of the tests without the test actually being run.” Donaldson, who has worked at Northrop Grumman since 1986, said that he brought up the issue internally but was demoted, “as a result of his internal complaints regarding fake testing results on the LN -100 and other improper acts of Defendant.”
The complaint also states that the company had not been updating the LN-100 units' calibration files properly before delivering them to the US government. It notes that incorrect GPS calibration and testing can introduce small errors, which “accumulate in the system over time, such that its misreading of position becomes progressively worse.”
The lawsuit states that LN-100 units start at $60,000 and can cost more than $100,000.
Donaldson is suing Northrop Grumman under the False Claims Act (FCA), which incentivizes whistleblowers to call attention to bad practices that companies perpetrate against the US government. If the US wins in a lawsuit against the allegedly offending company, the whistleblower gets to keep a portion the winnings. At the moment, the Los Angeles Times writes, the US government has declined to join the case, but it could still decide to intervene at this point.
The Los Angeles Times also notes that although Donaldson does not cite any specific cases of LN-100 failure in the field, “Air Force investigators blamed the LN-100 for a crash of a Predator drone carrying a Hellfire missile in the North African Republic of Djibouti.” In that event, “the device recorded the drone’s altitude to be 400 feet higher than it actually was.