BAE Systems to supply second helmet for F-35

Washington DC
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Lockheed Martin has selected BAE Systems to deliver a helmet-mounted display (HMD) with detachable night-vision goggles for the F-35 Lightning II.

The selection of the BAE Q-Sight helmet raises pressure on the original supplier - VSI, an Elbit Systems-Rockwell Collins joint venture - to fix long-acknowledged problems with a critical piece of hardware on the F-35.

"The [Q-Sight helmet's display] will enable all aspects of flight operations," said Jim Garceau, vice-president and general manager of BAE's defence avionics division.

BAE will start delivering Q-Sight helmets next year with a new feature uniquely required for the F-35. An optical head tracking system will be integrated, allowing the pilot to aim weapons and navigate by looking in any direction.

Unlike most fighters developed since the 1970s, the F-35 is not designed with a head-up display that means the helmet must function as primary flight displays when the pilot looks outside the cockpit.

The VSI joint venture won the first development contract, offering a display with an integrated night-vision system.

However, VSI has struggled with technical glitches. In April, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the VSI display especially suffers from latency, meaning the display does not keep up with the pilot's head movements. Deficiencies have also been found with night operations, weapons aiming accuracy and laser eye protection, the GAO said.

The programme needs one of the helmet suppliers to develop a working display quickly. The GAO report warned that the F-35 cockpit will require a major redesign if the helmet-mounted display problems are not solved.

Meanwhile, the director of the office of test and evaluation reported last year that a working helmet is necessary to allow the F-35 to fly with Block II software.

In response to Lockheed's announced selection of the Q-Sight helmet, VSI released a statement accepting the government's decision.

"This will allow our company the room to mature our integrated night vision capability," the company said.

"VSI is confident that within a very short time, our F-35 [helmet-mounted display system] will provide all the fifth-generation HMD capabilities integral to the F-35."