Rockwell Collins on August 11 marked the delivery of the first “Gen 3” helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) for the F-35 Lightning II during an event at its headquarters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The delivery of the third-generation HMDS indicates that the problems pilots experienced with the current system are resolved. Those problems threatened to complicate the F-35 program and led manufacturer Lockheed Martin over the course of two years to pursue the development of an alternate HMDS from BAE Systems.
The Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems joint venture of Rockwell Collins and Elbit, until 2012 known as Vision Systems International (VSI), supplies the F-35 HMDS. While the first Gen 3 delivery was commemorated in Cedar Rapids, the actual system was delivered to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., on June 30 for use by Lockheed Martin test pilots flying low-rate initial production lot (LRIP) 7 fighters. The new HMDS will be introduced to the F-35 fleet next year with that production lot.
In 2011, the Pentagon identified the HMDS as one of several F-35 program risks. It found that the Gen 2 system was deficient in the areas of night-vision acuity, display jitter and importing imagery from the fighter’s Northrop Grumman electro-optical distributed aperture system. In September that year, Lockheed Martin awarded a contract to BAE, which supplies the Striker helmet used on the Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab JAS 39 Gripen, to supply an alternate HMDS while efforts to fix the VSI system continued. The Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office announced in October 2013 that it had decided to stop the alternate HMDS development.
The Gen 3 helmet incorporates an improved night vision camera, improved liquid-crystal displays, automated alignment and software improvements, according to the Rockwell Collins delivery announcement. The U.S. Marine Corps, which declared initial operational capability of the F-35B on July 31, did so with an improved version of the second-generation HMDS.
Separately, on July 14, the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command awarded Lockheed Martin a $101.3 million modification to a previously awarded F-35 Lot 9 advance acquisition contract to procure HMDS systems for the U.S. military services, partner nations and the governments of Japan and Israel under the foreign military sales program.