GUY NORRIS / ST LOUIS
Helmet-mounted display has overcome reliability and maintainability issues that delayed its formal approval.
The US government-industry integrated product team (IPT) developing the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) now expects a long-delayed full-rate production decision after a formal programme review scheduled for February 2004.
The JHMCS incorporates a visor-projected display to cue weapons and sensors to the target, allowing the pilot to simply look at a target to shoot rather than pointing the entire aircraft. It is being developed for Boeing F/A-18C-F, F-15C/D and Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 50/60 aircraft operated by the US Air Force and Navy, as well as for a host of overseas users.
Low-rate initial production (LRIP) approval was granted in May 2000 and full-rate production was originally planned for April 2002, but has been delayed by reliability and maintainability issues exposed during operational test and evaluation. Meanwhile, the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F/A-22, originally due to have JHMCS, has been dropped from the platform list - at least temporarily. "We are close to getting a formal full-rate production decision, but business issues are still holding it up," says Boeing deputy programme director Phillip King.
Under the first three LRIP lots, more than 500 systems have been delivered by California-based Vision Systems International (VSI) - a joint venture formed in 1996 between Elbit subsidiary EFW and Rockwell Collins. Initial systems have been fielded with the 3rd Fighter Wing (FW) F-15C unit based in Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, and 48th Fighter Wing in the UK, as well as with US Navy F/A-18s operated by VFA-14/41 from the USS Nimitz. More systems will become operational over the next few months with F/A-18s in Lemoore, California and in mid-2004 with USAF F-15s operated from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.
The latest international JHMCS flights were completed in August on Danish air force F-16s as part of the mid-life upgrade (MLU) M3 lead-the-fleet programme. The system was also flown during the MLU M3 early operational assessment at Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, in June as part of joint exercises to evaluate advanced weapon systems for the European F-16 operator group. Flight tests are also starting for Greece, which is widely expected to be the first international F-16 JHMCS user, while Australia, Finland and Switzerland are in the early stages of planning for system integration on their F/A-18s.