The US Air Force is conducting market research for a next-generation ejection seat for fighters and bombers, according to a 5 April notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities web site.

The service plans to release a draft request for proposals in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017 and a final RFP in the second quarter of FY18, programme schedule slides state. The air force will select two qualified sources and award contracts at the beginning of FY19. A production decision would come in the middle of FY20.

The contract could also open the door for production of a domestic ejection seat, namely United Technologies Aerospace Systems (UTAS)’ Advanced Concept Ejection Seat (ACES) 5 ejection seat, and line up a potential competitor to the UK-based Martin-Baker. In a recent interview, Brig Gen Scott Pleus, director of the F-35 Integration office, told FlightGlobal it would be premature to halt the ACES 5 source qualification until the USAF receives the results from a study on Martin-Baker’s seat for the F-35.

The planned seat would integrate with the USAF’s existing fighter jets and bombers. Today, UTAS employs its ACES II ejection seat on the USAF’s F-22, F-16, F-15, A-10 and B-1 aircraft. In September, the air force awarded AMI Industries Inc, a United Technology Corporation company, a $14.4 million contract to incorporate safety improvements on the B-2's ACES II seat. The contract comes under the air force’s Safety & Sustainment Improvement Program (SSIP) and the new ACES II seat incorporates many of the design safety improvements of our ACES 5 seat, according to a UTAS spokesman. The seat features a detachable seatback that would not require the removal of the bomber’s escape hatches for maintenance.

In 2014, Martin-Baker completed installation of new US16T ejection seats on the USAF’s fleet of Northrop T-38 trainer aircraft. Martin-Baker is also fielding its US16E (MK16) ejection seat on the air force’s fleet of F-35As. The escape system has faced criticism over its weight restriction, limiting flights by pilots weighing less than 61.7kg (136lb). The USAF believes the weight restriction on the F-35A's Mk16 seat could be removed this spring.