Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fighter Pilot “Look & Shoot” Helmets’ Upgrade, Ups & Downs

In the 1970s, fighter aircraft began to appear with Head-Up Displays (HUD) that projected key information, targeting crosshairs etc. onto a seemingly clear piece of glass. HUDs allowed pilots to keep their eyes in the sky, instead of looking down at their instruments. Ever since, we’ve been wondering when we’d see them in our automobiles. In the 1990s, another innovation appeared: helmet-mounted displays (HMDs) put the HUD inside the pilot’s helmet, providing this information even when the pilot wasn’t looking straight ahead. The Israelis were already pioneering a system called DASH (Display And Sight Helmet) when a set of former East German MiG-29s equipped with Soviet HMDs slaughtered USAF F-16s in NATO exercises. Suddenly, helmet-mounted displays became must-haves for modern fighters – and a key partnership positioned Elbit to take DASH to the next level.

JHMCS: A Combat Multiplier

High Off-Boresight

The Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) projects visual targeting and aircraft performance information on the back of the helmet’s visor, including aircraft altitude, airspeed, gravitational pull, angle of attack, and weapons sighting, enabling the pilot to monitor this information without interrupting the field of view through the cockpit canopy. The system uses a magnetic transmitter unit fixed to the pilot’s seat and a magnetic field probe mounted on the helmet to define helmet pointing positioning. A Helmet Vehicle Interface (HVI) interacts with the aircraft system bus to provide signal generation for the helmet display. This offers significant improvements to close combat targeting and engagement.

Early infrared-guided air-air missiles had poor kill probabilities because they had to be launched from the rear, where the enemy engine’s heat source provided a clear enough target. Subsequent improvements allowed SRAAMs to be launched head-on, as improved sensors and computer processing allowed the missiles to detect and target the heat created by air friction. The AIM-9L Sidewinder’s new capabilities gave British Harriers a clear combat advantage over the Falklands during the 1982 war, which turned out to be critical because without air superiority, the war would have been lost. 

Computer processing and seekers have continued to improve. A number of the most modern SRAAMs use a form of infrared imaging that sees pictures rather than just heat sources, and can ignore many flares and other countermeasures. When combined with improvements to missile maneuverability and motors that enable a missile to make several maneuvers at g-forces manned fighters can’t even approach, close-in combat has become a much deadlier enterprise. The winner may well be the aircraft that shoots first, and so improvements designed to make that outcome more likely become very valuable. 

One way to improve one’s odds in this environment is to fly a plane with excellent pitch and slew capabilities, allowing the pilot to point at enemy aircraft and quickly get off a shot without having to engage in lengthy maneuvering. The forward canard & delta designs of 4+ generation European fighters, and Sukhoi’s advanced SU-30 family aircraft, are no accident. Neither is the F-22A Raptor’s thrust vectoring capability, a trait shared by Russian SU-30MKI/M planes – and now the MiG-29OVT/MiG-35 as well. 


Another approach is to add a helmet-mounted display. If the missile seeker has a wide enough cone, the pilot can simply use his head for the point maneuver, confirming lock-on and firing a SRAAM even at angles that would seem to be outside any threat range based on the position of his aircraft. While aircraft with excellent ‘slew and point’ capabilities + HMDs offer the best combination, older aircraft with HMDs and better missiles can also become extremely effective. Air combat exercises held shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, in which German MiG-29s with helmet-mounted displays and AA-11 missiles slaughtered American F-16s by the dozens, drove that point home with brutal clarity.

It should not be surprising that Israel had also been working on helmet-mounted displays for some time, and was already flying a system from Elbit called DASH (Display And Sight Helmet). Vision Systems International, LLC is a joint venture between Elbit Systems Ltd. Subsidiary EFW Inc. and Rockwell Collins; when the USA went looking for a “Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System” of its own, VSI won the contract in 1996. JHMCS helmets now equip US F-15C/E Eagle family, F-16, and F/A-18 Hornet Family aircraft, and have become popular export items for countries buying these American “teen series” fighters. A 1998 Air Power International article explains:

“Unlike the embedded DASH, the JHMCS is a clip-on package, which can be latched into position with one hand in flight, on a modified HGU-55/P, HGU-56/P or HGU-68/P helmet. The JHMCS is a much more advanced design than the DASH, and builds on the collective technology base of Elbit and Kaiser. It employs a newer, much faster digital processing package, but retains the same style of electromagnetic position sensing as the older DASH does. The CRT package is more capable, but remains limited to monochrome presentation of calligraphic symbology. While the manufacturers have declined to comment, it would appear that the JHMCS will provide support for raster scanned imagery to display FLIR/IRS&T pictures for operations in poor visibility or at night. The photograph of the helmet separated from the Display Unit clearly illustrates the high voltage coaxial and discrete/serial connections via the umbilical, which is embedded in the helmet. Unlike the DASH series, the high voltage supply is not embedded in the helmet and feeds up via the umbilical, through a quick disconnect inline high voltage rated connector. An attachment is provided to allow a NVG package to be clipped on during flight. The JHMCS will provide a 20 degree FoV (Field of view) for the right eye, with an 18 mm exit pupil.”

As a nice additional feature, the helmet has a camera that records the targeting display on videocassette for post-mission debriefing. 

Precision air to ground weapons can’t be fired with JHMCS targeting alone, because the system’s accuracy requirements were not set that high. This has not stopped the helmet from becoming extremely useful for ground engagements, however, due to its ability to point the aircraft’s more precise FLIR or targeting systems toward the target the pilot is looking at. This eliminates the long and difficult “soda straw view sync-up” process with the pilot’s view out the window, which can easily take 30 seconds or more and tends to result in predictable flight patterns. Instead, JHMCS-equipped planes can fly much more freely as they run through a quicker “look, sharpen, shoot” process.

If everything should go wrong, however, which does happen in war, the JHMCS helmet system has been ejection-tested using full sled tests. This was one of the system’s most challenging design requirements, but their success ensures that the extra weight on top of the pilot’s head won’t create neck injuries during the violent, rocket-assisted blast-out that characterizes modern ejection seats.

Vision Systems International is also working on the more advanced HMDS system for the international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

JHMCS: The Program to Date


The total value of all JHMCS production contracts since the beginning of low-rate production is over $550 million – a figure that excludes minor contract modifications and unannounced sales. As of October 2007, JHMCS had 19 customers, but it seems likely that VSI counts the US Air Force, Air National Guard, and Navy as separate customers. Customers DID has been able to verify include:

F-15s: USAF, US Air National Guard, South Korea (F-15K); Singapore likely (F-15SG)
F-16s: USAF, Chile, Denmark (F-16 MLU program), Greece, The Netherlands, Norway (F-16 MLU), Oman (F-16 E/F), plus Pakistan, Poland, Turkey (F-16s).
F/A-18 A-D: Australia, Canada, Finland, Switzerland
F/A-18 E/F: US Navy; Australia likely

In addition, note that VSI partner Elbit Systems is an Israeli company, which means sales to Israel might not need to be announced by the Pentagon; a reasonable assumption is that JHMCS systems supplement the DASH on Israeli Air Force F-16s and F-15s. 

Announced production stages, amounts, and customers include:
  • LRIP 1 = $16.7 million (Low-Rate Initial Production begins)
  • LRIP 2 = $42.1 million
  • LRIP 3 = $82.9 million
  • LRIP 4 = $66.7 million
  • FRP 1 = $99.1 million (Full Rate Production begins, 300+ for USAF F-15/F-16, US ANG F-15, USN F/A-18E/F, F-16s of Poland and Greece; F/A-18A-Ds of Australia, Finland, and Switzerland)
  • FRP 2 = $87.2 million (401 for USAF F-15/F-16; USN F/A-18 family; F-16s of Oman, Poland, Turkey; F/A-18A-Ds of Australia, Finland, and Switzerland)
  • FRP 3 = $97 million (400+ for USAF F-15/F-16; USN F/A-18 family; F-16s of The Netherlands, Poland, Turkey; F/A-18A-Ds of Australia, Canada, and Switzerland)
  • FRP 4 = $68.8 million (321 for USAF F-15/F-16; USANG F-15; USN F/A-18E/F; F-16s of Belgium, Greece, Pakistan, Poland, Turkey; F/A-18A-Ds of Australia, Canada, and Switzerland)
  • FRP 5 = ca. $120 million (550 for USAF F-15/F-16; USANG F-15; USN F/A-18 family; F/A-18A/B+ of Australia; F-16s of Belgium and Turkey). Contracts includes spares.
  • FRP 6 = ca. $54.1 million (85+ for F-15/F-16; USN F/A-18 family; F-16s of Belgium).
Boeing predicts that the final number of JHMCS units produced will exceed 2,800 for all customers, including those produced during their 4 Low-Rate Initial Production runs. At present, however, funding for JHMCS purchases is scattered across the F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 budgets so this remains just an estimate.

JHMCS: Contracts & Key Events


Unless otherwise stated, all contracts are issued by the Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, to Boeing in St. Louis, MO. While the system itself is from the Rockwell Collins/Elbit joint venture Vision Systems International, Boeing is the prime contractor for the JHMCS program. VSI then receives sub-contracts from Boeing. Note that this list presently includes only contracts and events since the beginning of Full Rate Production; the Low Rate Initial Production phase had some bumpy moments, which are detailed in the next section.

April 29/10: Vision Systems International, LLC in San Jose, CA received a $22.6 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-10-C-0007) for 100 JHMCS 40-degree night vision cueing and display (NVCD) unit hardware and associated support equipment for the US Navy (53) and the US Air Force (47); 500 step-in visors for the Navy (359) and the Air Force (141); 25 aviation night vision (ANV-126) night vision goggles test set adapter kits for the Navy; and associated engineering services for the Navy and Air Force. This contract combines purchases for the Navy ($12.3 million; 54%) and the Air Force ($10.3 million; 46%). 

Work will be performed in San Jose, CA, and is expected to be complete in January 2012. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract.

March 19/10: A $14.4 million contract which will provide JHMCS full rate production systems for the US Air Force, US Navy and Foreign Military Sales for Belgium. Belgium flies F-16A/B MLU fighters, which were upgraded part-way through their service life. At this time, all funds have been committed (F33657-01-D-0026).

Feb 08/10: A FedBizOpps solicitation pinpoints a JHMCS component supplier:
“This requirement is for the purchase of 7 each cable assemblies applicable to the F-15C/D/E Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System. NSN 6150-01-504-5576FX P/N 178-6384-2. Note 22 applies. The proposed contract action is for supplies or services for which the Government intends to solicit and negotiate with only one source, Teledyne Reynolds (CAGE 99747), under authority of FAR 6.302.”

Dec 16/09: Boeing in St. Louis, MO received a $39.7 million contract which will provide 85 JHMCS systems under Full Rate Production Lot 6 for the USAF’s F-15s and F-16s, the US Navy’s F/A-18 platforms, and Foreign Military Sales countries. At this time, the entire amount has been committed (F33657-01-D-0026).

If Lot 6 seems smaller than other lots, that’s no accident. Lot 5 got pumped up via a Lot 5+ supplemental buy, in order to buy in quantity and lower prices. VSI expects more orders to follow, whether in 2010 or later. 

Oct 26/09: Vision Systems International, LLC in San Jose, CA received a $6.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for 20 US Navy JHMCS 40-degree night vision cueing and display (NVCD) units, including hardware and associated support equipment. The NVCD units will give pilots JHMCS symbology in their night vision goggles (2 or 4-tube options), offering a lower weight display option that nonetheless depends on a JHMCS helmet to make it work. The US Navy has chosen the 40×40 degree field of view 2-tube option at the moment, rather than the 100×40 degree QuadEye.

This initial contract is mostly about getting support items in place, and other preparation for a new program. NVCD is a separate contract from JHMCS, and production has just started. If customers like the US Navy, USAF, et. al. want these upgrades, they will place additional contracts, and this order will become the thin edge of a much larger wedge.

Work will be performed in San Jose, CA and is expected to be complete in April 2011. Contract funds in the amount of $4.6 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/10. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-10-C-0007).

Sept 30/09: Vision Systems International of San Jose, CA received a $7 million contract for the repair of A/A24A-56 joint helmet mounted cueing systems, 24 repair contract line items, and one contract line item for data. At this time, no money has been obligated; orders will be issued as needed. The WR-ALC/PKHCB at Robins AFB, GA manages the contract (FA8522-09-D-0012).

July 20/09: Vision Systems International, LLC in San Jose, CA received a $17.3 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to provide Fast Characterization Tool (FACT) hardware, integration, and validation and software upgrades for the F/A-18 JHMCS systems used by the U.S. Navy ($11 million, 58%) and the Governments of Australia ($2.8 million, 15%), Canada ($1.2 million, 9%), Finland ($1.2 million, 9%), and Switzerland ($1.2 million, 9%). 

Work will be performed in San Jose, CA and is expected to be complete in October 2014. Contract funds in the amount of $8 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, NJ (N68335-09-D-0106).

April 29/09: VSI announces “several new contracts with a total value of more than $120 million,” as Boeing awards VSI a contract for more than 550 more JHMCS systems under Production Lot 5. VSI also received direct contracts from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force for spares and Ground Support Equipment (GSE) in support of the JHMCS program.

Under the production contract, VSI will provide JHMCS hardware, including spares, technical support and GSE for the Full Rate Production – Lot 5 (FRP-5) acquisition. This procurement fills U.S. government domestic requirements, and foreign orders from Australia, Belgium, Turkey, and “other countries.” Deliveries under FRP-5 will commence in 2009, and continue through 2010.

Sept 9/08: The US DSCA announces Finland’s official request for the 3rd phase of the Mid-Life Upgrade Program for its 63 F/A-18C/D Hornet fighters. The request includes 1 Lot of JHMCS Spares, and 70 JHMCS Laser Helmet Shields – presumably a protective addition, as Finland is already a JHMCS customer.

Aug 2/08: Elbit Systems announces that VSI has received a $17 million contract from Boeing to supply helmets and visors. The Reuters report cites “145 F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet pilots,” but each F-15E has 2 pilots. 

It is possible that the deal is for 145 aircraft per the Globes Israel report, which would be 280 pilots. In any event, the contract definitely includes the new dual-seat capable JHMCS hardware and pilot equipment. Initial deliveries have already commenced and will continue through mid-2009. 

July 8/08: StrategyPage reports that an investigation concluded that the crash of a U.S. F-16, during a March 2007 air combat training exercise, was due to the pilot blacking out from the high g-forces generated by tight turns. 

Since a 4.3 pound JHMCS feels like 30.1 pounds at 7gs, vs. about half that weight for a regular helmet, the growing use of helmet mounted sight systems is seen as a contributing factor to these kinds of accidents. In response, the publication reports that the USAF has introduced a new neck muscle exercise machine in some air force gyms.

May 12/08: Small business qualifier Vision Systems International in San Jose, CA received a $6.2 million firm-fixed-price, definitive-contract. They will set up of a JHMCS repair depot at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane that allows in-house repair of failed Display Units. 

Work will be performed in Crane, IN and is expected to be complete by April 2013. This contract was not competitively procured, though a solicitation was posted on Federal Business Opportunities website and the NSWC Crane website. NSWC Crane in Crane, IN received only 1 offer (N00164-08-C-JQ41).

Feb 29/08: Boeing received a contract for $23.9 million for JHMCS Full Rate Production lot four (FRP 4) for USAF F-15E Strike Eagles. At this time $25 million has been committed (F33657-01-D-0026, Delivery Order 006604). 

A March 24/08 Boeing release refers to a $49.5 million U.S. Air Force contract to integrate the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) into 145 F-15E aircraft, including hardware and installation services on the aircraft, as well as initial pilot equipment, such as helmets and visors. Installation in the first F-15E is expected in October 2008, with contract completion in December 2010.

Feb 7/08: Vision Systems International of San Jose, CA received a firm fixed-price contract modification for $9 million for JHMCS equipment. At this time all funds have been obligated. The 752nd CBSSS/GBKAB at Robins Air Force Base, GA issued the contract (FA8522-08-C-0003).

Oct 9/07: Boeing delivers the first factory-installed, dual-cockpit F/A-18F Super Hornet JHMCS to the U.S. Navy. The 2-seat variant places a JHMCS helmet on both crew members, giving each the capability to aim weapons and sensors, as well as a visual indication of where each crew member is looking. The inclusion of JHMCS in the aft seat of 2-seat aircraft gives the weapons system officer the same weapons management capabilities as the pilot, vastly reducing the amount of required verbal discussion and improving the ability to react rapidly to targets and/or threats. Phil King, Boeing JHMCS program manager, said that: “The extension of the JHMCS capability into the aft cockpits of F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets has been eagerly awaited for several years.”

Boeing delivered the enhanced aircraft to the VX-9 Vampires of Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, CA, and is scheduled to deliver 77 of the two-seat JHMCS-equipped aircraft to the U.S. Navy over the next 3 years. As of this date, Boeing’s release says that it has contracted for more than 2,500 systems since 2000 from Vision Systems International, based in San Jose, CA.

Sept 12/07: A contract for $16.1 million, covering Full Rate Production 4 (FRP4) F-15E Strike Eagle retrofit kits and Group B Hardware for the F-15E Strike Eagle. At this time, all funds been obligated (F33657-01-D-0026, Delivery Order 0066).

April 4/07: A $68.8 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contract for Full Rate Production Lot 4 (FRP 4) of 321 JHMCS systems. The systems will be used on USAF F-15s and F-16s, MACH Brooks, the USN’s F/A-18 platforms, and foreign military sales to Poland (F-16s), Belgium (F-16s), Pakistan (F-16s), Greece (F-16s), Royal Australian Air Force (F/A-18s), Switzerland (F/A-18s), and Canada (F/A-18s). At this time, total funds have been obligated. Work will be complete December 2009 (F33657-01-D-0026/Delivery Order 0058).

Boeing release. See also Rockwell Collins Oct 23/07 release, announcing the sub-contract award from Boeing. Drew Brugal, president of VSI, says that: “With the addition of Belgium and other air forces, VSI now has a total of 19 customers for JHMCS.”

Feb 3/07:New helmet gives pilots the edge” describes the JHMCS’ induction at Eiselson AFB, Alaska with the 18th Fighter Squadron (F-16s):

“The upgrade, which runs at around $1,000 per helmet, also holsters a camera and a projector that assist pilots with air operations. The camera is embedded in the helmet and sits over the left eye, allowing American servicemembers on the ground to see exactly what the pilot sees, said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Burton, an 18th FS aircrew life support technician. The projector at the top of the helmet displays information on the inside of the visor over the right eye…. Another feature that will soon be implemented in these new helmets is the capability to employ high off-bore sight with air-to-air missiles, said the captain, who has four years experience flying F-16s.”

DID presumes that this means the induction of new AIM-9X Sidewinder missile to the squadron, rather than a new capability for the helmet.

ELEC JHMCS Adjustment Process

Jan 3/07: Hill AFB’s “Life support section works to keep pilots safe” describes a successful program that helped the USAF improve training for the fitters and technicians who work on gear like JHMCS. As part of the successful effort described, Senior Airman Mark Fredrickson, 4 FS life support technician, spent 2 months developing a guide for the Joint Helmet Mounting Cuing System that is fitted to F-16 CCIP (Common Configuration Implementation Program) jets. “The guide is like a ‘JHMCS for dummies. It is an easy way to teach the technicians how to perform the new duties with the new helmets.”

Airman Fredrickson also explained this program was taken back with the inspectors to be implemented for other Air Force bases in USAF Air Combat Command.

“The reactions of the inspectors were very positive,” said Sergeant Freeman. “They were surprised at the vast improvements in the program over the past six months. Two of the three inspectors have been to the 388 FW in the past year and were very pleased at the improvements in the equipment, morale and the program in general.”

Sept 29/06: Vision Systems International, San Jose, CA receives a $10 million firm-fixed-price contract for replenishment spare parts and organic depot stand-up equipment applicable to the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). “Specific components and pricing are set forth by attachment hereto.” At this time, total funds have been obligated. The Headquarters 542nd Combat Sustainment Wing at Robins Air Force Base, GA issued the contract. (FA8522-06-C-0029).

Sept 28/06: Turkey requests 36 JHMCS to go with its proposed $1.8 billion order for 30 new F-16C/D aircraft. 

Sept 28/06: Teledyne Wireless Inc., Rancho Cordova, CA is being awarded a $370 million firm-fixed-price, time and materials and cost-reimbursable without fee contract. This action provides for spare (nine items), remanufacture/ modernization/ repairs (57 output items), associated Engineering Services, and Logistics Sustainment/Modification Services and Data which are sole source to Teledyne within the authority of the approved SAF/AQ Class J&A #06-JA-013 (11 July 2006). 

The Class J&A covered supplies and services supporting Communications and Electronics items for the ALQ-131, ALQ-161, ALQ-135, ALQ-172 and the Joint Helmet Mounted Cuing Systems. At this time, no funds have been obligated. This work will be complete October 2017. The Headquarters Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, GA issued the contract. (FA8536-06-D-0002).

June 28/06: Pakistan requests 36 JHMCS as part of a $3 billion, 36-plane order for F-16 C/D aircraft, plus up to 60 more as part of an F-16 mid-life upgrade kit deal for their existing fleet worth another $1.3 billion. 

June 16/06: An $8.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract modification, finalizing the JHMCS’ CPU/IO (Computer Processing Unit, Input/Output) Obsolescence Redesign Alternate Display Implementation, as placed on delivery order modification F33657-01-D-0026-003505. This acquisition benefits the F-15, F-16, and F-18 Platforms.

This contract action also incorporates an additional 14 each, fight test modules. At this time, $600,000 has been obligated. Solicitations began September 2005, and negotiations were complete May 2006 (F33657-01-D-0026/003513)

June 2-7/06: First flights of the JHMCS system take place in Finnish F/A-18C/D Hornets. Finland operates 63 Hornet fighters. The delivery brings the number of international JHMCS customers to 10, and first flights in Canadian F/A-18s are scheduled for September 2006. 

May 30/06: The first flight of a JHMCS system in a Swiss hornet (F/A-18C) takes place. Switzerland operates 35 F/A-18 C/D Hornet fighters. 

May 23/06: The first fleet aircraft delivery of JHMCS to the Royal Australian Air Force occurs in Williamtown, New South Wales, Australia. Boeing Australia and the Hornet Industry Coalition (a collaborative arrangement between Boeing, BAE Systems and L-3 Communications of Canada) will equip 71 Australian F/A-18s with JHMCS by 2008. 

Helmet & JHMCS

Feb 17/06: A $97 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contract for “more than 400” JHMCS systems as Full Rate Production Lot 3. They will equip the USAF’s F-15s and F-16s, the US Navy’s F/A-18 platforms, and foreign military sales including the Netherlands (F-16), Poland (F-16), Turkey (F-16C), the Royal Australian Air Force (F/A-18 C-D under HUG), Canada (F/A-18 A-B+), and Switzerland (F/A-18 C-D). Work will be complete by December 2008 (F33657-01-D-0026).

See also Boeing release | VSI’s related May 17/06 release, which gives a value of “over $80 million” and adds that “VSI also received direct contracts from the United States Navy and Air Force for spares and test equipment in support of the JHMCS program.”

Jan 18/06: Boeing announces a C$ 39 million contract from Canada’s Department of National Defence for installation of the 2nd and final phase the CF-18 Modernization Project. The upgrade will add a Link 16 system, a helmet-mounted sight system, new cockpit displays and a new flare-dispensing electronic warfare system to 78 CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft. Two additional aircraft will be modified for the essential validation and verification of the planned upgrade, bringing the total to 80. 

For full details re: the upgrade, its other subcontracts to L-3, et. al., see “Boeing Wins $39M for Phase 2 Upgrade of 80 CF-18 Fighters

Nov 03/05: Boeing announces that tests have begun at Naval Air Warfare Center China Lake, CA as part of the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) integration into the aft cockpits of the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18F Super Hornet. The testing marks the first time both the pilot and weapon systems officer have used the helmet in an F/A-18F during flight. Flight testing of the helmet in the aft cockpit of the 2-seat F/A-18D Hornet began in January 2005 (see Jan 31/05 entry). 

This flight test coincides with the Navy awarding Boeing a $4.4 million addition to the current F/A-18E/F Super Hornet multi-year contract to provide aft-cockpit helmets in F/A-18F and EA-18G aircraft, scheduled for delivery beginning in October 2007 (q.v. Oct 9/07 entry, above). F/A-18F aircraft to be used for validation and verification testing will be retrofit with the aft-cockpit capability beginning in late summer 2006.


Nov 2/05: Vision Systems International, LLC (VSI) announces that they have delivered the 1,000th Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), 2 years ahead of schedule.

Oct 31/05: Vision Systems International, LLC announces several new contracts with a total value of more than $100 million: a request from Boeing for more than 500 additional JHMCS systems under Full Rate Production Lot 2 (FRP-2, see June 3/05 entry), and direct contracts from the United States Navy and Air Force for spares and test equipment in support of the JHMCS program.

Oct 25/05: Greece requests 42 more JHMCS helmets for its F-16 C/D fleet, as part of a larger $3.1 billion DSCA request. 

Sept 22/05: Boeing in St. Louis, MO has received a $7.6 million firm fixed price contract modification to redesign the electronic unit central processor unit input/output for use on the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) for F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 platforms. This action definitizes Phase 1a and 1b ($3,773,900 not-to-exceed) and incorporates Phase 2.

For this modification, the Central Processing Unit & Input-Output (CPU/IO) Module within the JHMCS Electronics Unit (EU) is being redesigned to eliminate obsolete parts. Boeing will be able to produce the current system’s EU (with current CPU/IO Module) for another 2.5 years. After that, they will need to have a new EU design and qualification for the JHMCS system.

Solicitation began in January 2005, negotiations were complete in September 2005, and work will be complete by December 2006 (F33657-01-D-0026/P003506). Foreign military sales countries will also benefit from this effort.

Sept 7/05: The first dual-seat flight of their Night Vision Cueing and Display (NVCD) was completed earlier this month in a demonstration at the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, CA. For this demonstration, an F/A-18F Super Hornet was equipped with JHMCS in both cockpits, and the pilot’s and weapons systems officer’s independent lines of sight were integrated into the aircraft weapons and sensors. VSI’s release adds that:

“The JHMCS with the NVCD modules allowed both pilots an unprecedented wide field of view night visual scene and the ability to cue the Super Hornet’s weapons/sensors via the JHMCS interface…. The NVCD capability allows both crew members to independently and simultaneously survey the battlefield, designate ground or airborne targets of opportunity and exchange information during historically high work-load night operations. This is made possible through the automatic transfer of data to the aircraft’s forward-looking infrared (FLIR) pod.”

July 27/05: VSI announces that its Night Vision Cueing and Display (NVCD, see May 3/05 entry) has made a successful first flight on board an F/A-18F Super Hornet.

“The mission profile included two sorties of an F/A-18 two-ship formation. As part of the familiarization process, the pilots performed various air-to-ground, air-to-air, low level and formation maneuvers. The system provides added cueing and display capabilities and an expanded 100-degree field of view over the current 40-degree NVGs. Additional flights are scheduled to take place over the next few months.”

June 3/05: An $81.9 million contract modification to provide 401 JHMCS systems under Full Rate Production, Lot 2. These systems will be produced for the USAF F-15 and F-16, the Navy F/A-18 platforms, and Oman (F-16 E/F), Poland (F-16 C/D), Australia (F/A-18 A/B+), Finland (F/A-18 C/D), and Switzerland (F/A-18 C/D). 

“The following period of FY 2005, FY06 and FY07, Matrix Prices were negotiated and will be placed on the contract via medication. Total funds have been obligated. This work will be complete December 2007” (F33657-01-D-0026, 0028). 

May 3/05: VSI announces a $3.3 million contract from the U.S. Navy for the development of the Night Vision Cueing and Display system (NVCD). VSI says that ” The history of U.S. Naval Air operations in recent theaters of conflict has demonstrated that a majority of naval air combat missions were, and continue to be, night missions.” The NVCD is based on a proprietary Night Vision system known as QuadEye; it provides the much needed JHMCS capability at night by leveraging existing technology, without modification to the aircraft’s installed JHMCS hardware. 

The goal is to provide war fighters with image-intensified night vision, integrated with standard HMD symbology and Line of Sight (LOS). Projected information includes weapons status and aiming, target cueing and aircraft state parameters embedded in the night vision scene. VSI’s NVCD QuadEye is fully a lightweight, well-balanced, modular package that provides a 40- by 40-degree night field-of-view (FOV) in standard configuration, or optionally can be easily expanded to 100- by 40-degree FOV. As JHMCS is a modular “day” system, the current Display Unit can be quickly exchanged with NVCD’s QuadEye Night Vision Display Unit to support round-the-clock missions.

April 26/05: Turkey requests an indeterminate number of JHMCS systems as part of $1.1-billion Letter of Acceptance for the modernization of 117 Turkish Air Force F-16s to a common avionics configuration. 

ELEC HMD JHMCS Maj Nikos Mach Machalias
HAF Maj. Mikos “Mach” Machalias
March 30/05: Vision Systems International (VSI) announces that the Hellenic Air Force has added the JHMCS capability to its new fleet of F-16D block 52 aircraft as part of the Peace Xenia 3 order.

The first JHMCS flights on an Hellenic F-16D were performed by Major Machalias “Mach” and Major Tolis. The JHMCS flights are the highlight of a multi-disciplinary fielding effort involving avionics, software, life support and pilot training. During the flights, JHMCS operation and functionality were evaluated both in air-to-air and air-to-ground profiles. JHMCS reportedly performed beyond specification in all areas including display symbology, precise sensor slaving and target cueing.

Jan 31/05: Boeing starts flight tests at Naval Air Warfare Center China Lake, CA as part of the integration of the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) into the aft cockpits of the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18D Hornet. 

While the helmet has been used extensively for F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 pilots in the forward cockpit, today’s flight marks the first time both the pilot and weapon systems officer have used the helmet during flight. This flight is a first step in a flight test program that will include integration tests for F/A-18D Hornet and F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft. 

July 20/04: JHMCS for simulators, too. Boeing announces that it has added JHMCS capability to simulators. The F-15C Mission Training Center at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, was the first training center to receive this capability and began using it for training operations in late May 2004. 

In addition to the F-15C Mission Training Center at Elmendorf AFB, the JHMCS capability will also be added to the Boeing-operated F-15C facility at Eglin AFB, FL. Each mission training center includes 4-ship sets of F-15C full-mission trainers with high-fidelity, 360-degreee visual integrated display systems. They also include a virtual environment of simulated threats as well as friendly and neutral forces. These training centers, as well as the facility at Langley AFB, VA are part of the Air Force Distributed Mission Operations concept, allowing pilots and aircrews in one location to train with others at locations hundreds, even thousands of miles away. 

The Air Force and Boeing have applied an innovative acquisition approach to these Mission Training Centers, using a commercial-fee-for-service contracting method that pays for training time received and avoids large up-front investments in simulators. Boeing also is responsible for ensuring that the training devices are concurrent with the latest upgrades being made to the actual aircraft, hence the JHMCS modifications. Using the same DMO technology and acquisition approach, Boeing is establishing additional F-15C facilities are for Kadena AFB in Okinawa, Japan and at RAF Lakenheath. F-15E Strike Eagle mission training centers will be placed at Mountain Home AFB, ID; Seymour-Johnson AFB, NC; Elmendorf AFB, AK; and Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. 

June 11/04: Boeing announces an $86 million contract for the 1st full-rate production lot of Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS). Under this contract, Boeing will produce the JHMCS for U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard F-15 Eagles, USAF F-16 Fighting Falcons, U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, and Australia (F/A-18), Finland (F/A-18), Poland (F-16), Greece (F-16) and Switzerland (F/A-18).

The program anticipates that the U.S. military and international customers will order a total of more than 2,000 JHMCS, with initial delivery of the 300+ systems on this contract scheduled for March 2005. Boeing release | VSI Aug 10/04 release re: its $75.6 million sub-contract. Under the contract, VSI will provide JHMCS display systems, spares, technical support and support equipment for the Full Rate Production (FRP) lot 1 acquisition. This award is the first Full Rate Production (FRP) of JHMCS following 4 Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lot deliveries.

1  * = German translation of the L337 slang phrase “we pwned you” [‘L337’ = Leet, or Elite, a hacker/gamer text messaging slang set; ‘pwn’ = lit. to own, alt. dominate or crush, esp. in a competition]. Thanks to DID’s readers for the translation help.

Appendix A: JHMCS History & Challenges


The JHMCS program has evolved over the years, and confronted a number of issues. GlobalSecurity.org notes that “several years ago, an operational assessment of the systems for the F/A-18C/D and F-15C found the JHMCS potentially effective, but potentially not suitable due to numerous breaks in the helmet vehicle interface. Initial F-15C flight tests revealed that the legacy computer was slow in providing necessary data to JHMCS. This slow data input to the helmet, coupled with normal aircraft buffet during air combat maneuvering, made it difficult for the pilot to designate the target.”

Those initial tests kicked off several rounds of modifications, but they did not improved reliability to a certifiably acceptable level: 

“Based on MOT&E data collected from June 2001 to June 2002, DOT&E and the commanders of AFOTEC and OPTEVFOR determined that JHMCS was operationally effective, but not operationally suitable. Both the Navy and Air Force recommended delaying full-rate production until deficient areas are fixed and verified. DOT&E delayed its assessment to allow the Services time to fix the deficiencies.”

Yet GlobalSecurity.org’s account essentially ends there. In September 2005, the original version of this article was able to fill in some of the missing details, thanks to some additional research and Boeing’s help. 

In September 2002, the Pentagon’s chief tester upped the ante with a memo to then Secretary of the Navy (and current acting Deputy Secretary of Defense) Gordon England. Thomas Christie, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation for the Department of Defense, wrote:

“I am concerned about an apparent trend by the Navy to deploy an increasing number of combat systems into harm’s way that have not demonstrated acceptable performance,” he wrote. The JHMCS was not specifically mentioned by name, but the seriousness was clear.

Chris Haddox of Boeing noted that:
”...The “Not Operationally Suitable” rating was also partially based on some internal service issues like training and technical publications. The Air Force and Navy aggressively addressed these issues during 2003, and has since eliminated the concerns in these areas that were raised during operational testing.”

With respect to Boeing’s own activities during that period, he adds:
“During 2003, JHMCS embarked on a number of reliability and maintainability improvements to the system, correcting both hardware and software shortfalls. These R&M improvements were identified by performing Highly Accelerated Life Testing (HALT) on the JHMCS EU, forcing many failures to occur through thermal and vibration stress, and then incorporating improvements to eliminate these failures. 

The JHMCS program also instituted an enhanced environmental stress screening process to screen units, thereby eliminating many infant mortality problems from reaching the fleet. We also added a system test process to catch EU failures that cannot be detected by the acceptance test procedure alone, further screening units that may be marginal and would have failures in a full-up system. The net result of these R&M and quality improvements has been a significant improvement in JHMCS reliability, and the system today is achieving its operational requirements for reliability, maintainability, and availability.”

When asked directly whether the U.S. government had ever formally certified the JHMCS as “operationally suitable and effective” in an official report following these improvements, however, Mr. Haddox responded:
“You will have to get that answer from the government.”

Appendix B: Additional Readings & Sources
  • StrategyPage (July 8/08) – Fade to Black. Is the weight of helmet-mounted sights becoming a safety issue? Then again, being without these sights in combat is a different kid of safety issue.
  • Air Power International, via Air Power Australia site (August 1998) – Helmet Mounted Sights and Displays. A detailed look at the fundamentals of Helmet Mounted Sights and Displays, examining the operational issues and technology base, and looking at likely future directions and representative designs. At the time, Elbit’s DASH was the only game in town, aside from Russian equipment.
  • Australian Aviation (April 1997) – Fourth Generation AAMs – The Rafael Python 4. Excellent explanation of short-range air-air missile evolution, and the implications of advanced SRAAMs + HMDs on air combat and planning.
This article can be found in its original format here.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article. With SRAAM this deadly, it's going to be all about stealth and long range BVR combat.

    Please feel free to check out my debate forum sometime.