updated 2/7/2007 3:35:38 PM ET 2007-02-07T20:35:38

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, claims 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-based Raytheon said company lawyers had not had a chance to review the case and could not comment, The Boston Globe reported Wednesday.

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 White and the couple’s three children, acknowledged the difficulty in suing the government, and said the family’s claims against Raytheon have merit based on publicly reported Army investigations of White’s death.

“Based 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 Akiko 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. Nathan 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 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. White’s plane was apparently mixed up with one of the “false tracks” and misidentified, it said.

Raytheon has declined to respond to the report in the past except to say it was “confident that the Patriot system performed as designed,” the Globe reported. An Army spokesman said Tuesday officials would not likely comment on the ongoing litigation.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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