Martin Baker Cries Foul Over Rival Seat Improvements

 - February 12, 2015, 6:38 AM
A sled test of the Martin Baker Mk16E ejection seat for the F-35. (Photo: Martin Baker)

Ejection seat maker Martin Baker (MB) has complained that its American rival is trying to unfairly win government funding for development of a new seat. The British-owned company alleges that safety and maintainability modifications of the in-service ACES II seat, made by UTC Aerospace Systems, effectively create a new product. There is a proposal for the modifications to be funded by the Pentagon; Martin Baker maintains that the seat should be government-funded only after a competitive bid process.

The two companies enjoy a duopoly of provision to the U.S. military, but Martin Baker is better positioned for the future because its Mk16E seat was selected for the Lockheed Martin F-35. MB also makes Mk16s for the T-6 and T-38 trainers and is bidding for the ejection seats on the new USAF stealth bomber, the LRS-B. It has an American assembly line employing 120 people in Johnston, Pa. UTC Aerospace Systems acquired the ACES II business when it bought Goodrich; the seat is used on the A-10, F-15, F-16, F-22, B-1 and B-2. It is manufactured and supported from a facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.

MB claims that the Mk16E is the only seat that meets the latest USAF needs, including the safety provisions for the ejection of a pilot wearing helmet-mounted displays. The death of a USAF pilot who ejected on an ACES II seat from an F-16 in 2013 while wearing the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) and night-vision goggles was attributed to head and neck trauma. Further, MB noted, its Mk16 seat is a modular design that can be removed from a cockpit in pieces. The ACES II is not modular, and removing the top of the B-2 cockpit when the crew ejection seats require maintenance is an expensive and time-consuming process, according to MB.

During consideration of the FY 2015 defense budget, Congress added $10.5 million for safety and sustainment improvements to the ACES II. MB said that the funding was prompted by the representative for Colorado in whose district the ACES II facility is situated. In a press release last June, UTC Aerospace Systems reported Rep. Doug Lamborn’s second visit to the facility, “to learn first-hand about innovations in the ACES 5 seat that will save lives.”

UTC Aerospace Systems has stated in advertisements, that the ACES 5 seat enjoys 70 percent commonality with the ACES II. But MB claims that “the American taxpayer is being asked to foot the bill for the development of a product that already exists” (i.e. the Mk 16 seat). UTC Aerospace Systems did not reply to AIN’s request for comment.

 Earlier this month, the USAF issued documents that it described as “a market assessment to identify potential sources” but only with respect to the ACES II seats in the B-2.