US Air Force operational testers at Nellis AFB, Nevada, are preparing to evaluate the Visionix Scorpion helmet-mounted cueing system (HMCS) on the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor later this year.
"We absolutely hope to have the Scorpion helmet [on the Raptor]," says Col Robert Novotny, commander of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group (TEG), which investigates new technologies and tactics for the USAF. "We think we'll get into that business this summer."
US Air Force
Novotny cautions that while work is under way to investigate adding the new helmet-mounted display, a test plan has not yet been formally approved. "We're figuring out what's required, what are the issues," he says.
Even so, the new full-colour lightweight paddle-shaped display has made a very positive impression on the Raptor community. "Everybody really likes the Scorpion," Novotny says. "Everybody wants the helmet and we're trying to work our way forward."
The integration of the Scorpion onto the Raptor will pave the way for the fifth-generation air-superiority fighter to take full advantage of the Raytheon AIM-9X high off-boresight (HOBS) dogfighting missile. "If we can get that [HMCS] in the jet, then we can get them an off-boresight heat-seeking missile like the AIM-9X," Novotny says. However, adding the missile itself is a "little bit further off," he notes. "We want to get this done because we'll bring some great capability to the pilot, as all helmets do, and give them the off-boresight later."
The Raptor is expected to receive a "rudimentary" capability to use the AIM-9X in 2015, with full integration expected in 2017, when the fighter's Increment 3.2B upgrade is fielded.
The F-22 community considers the addition of an HMCS and the AIM-9X to be vital. Even though the jet grossly outperforms other aircraft at the "merge", the Raptor can be at a disadvantage once it transitions into the within-visual arena against a threat aircraft equipped with a helmet-mounted cueing system and HOBS missile.
The addition of the Scorpion and AIM-9X will also allow for "heads out" multi-targeting of enemy aircraft while approaching the merge, which will help the Raptor in scenarios where it is outnumbered, says one highly experienced F-22 pilot. Given the small size of the USAF's F-22 fleet, that "will be about all the time these days," the pilot says. The new capability would enable the service's 184 Raptors to retain an advantage, even during a within-visual-range encounter.
Generally speaking, Novotny - who has had years of experience flying as an aggressor against the Raptor - says a pilot is usually not aware of being attacked by a F-22 until it is too late. That is because even at the merge, a pilot flying against a Raptor does not know where the F-22 is coming from due to its stealth capabilities.
However, once engaged in a classic dogfight, "I have a chance," Novotny says. The outcome of visual-range encounters is largely dependent on individual pilot skill, he notes.