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Pentagon Scraps Alternative F-35 Helmet

by Brendan McGarry on October 10, 2013

BAE_F-35_helmetThe U.S. Defense Department has canceled development of an alternative helmet for the F-35 fighter jet, the program office announced today.

The move is projected to save about $45 million in avoided development costs, according to Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the program.

“The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has decided to stop the development of an alternate helmet and focus solely on bringing the ‘Gen 2′ helmet – now being used in testing and training – up to a fully compliant Gen 3 standard,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

The decision is a loss for BAE Systems Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of London-based BAE Systems Plc, which was developing the product in coordination with the plane’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp.

“We are disappointed at today’s decision by Lockheed Martin and the Joint Strike Fighter Joint Program Office to discontinue the pursuit of a second helmet for the F-35 aircraft,” Liz Ryan Sax, a spokeswoman for the company’s Electronic Systems unit, said in an e-mail. The team “has achieved every milestone to date, providing a critical viable alternative for the customer,” she said.

The Pentagon in September 2011 tapped BAE Systems to build a more traditional fighter helmet with night-vision goggles after Lockheed, Rockwell Collins Inc. and Elbit Systems Ltd. encountered problems developing a more advanced design, known as the Helmet Mounted Display System.

The dual-approach helped to lower the cost of the display system by 12 percent, DellaVedova said, though he didn’t specify its latest price tag.

The Helmet Mounted Display System is supposed to provide fighter pilots with 360-degree situational awareness in any kind of weather, day or night. The jet’s distributed aperture system is designed to stream real-time imagery from cameras mounted around the aircraft to the helmet, allowing pilot’s to “see through” the air frame.

While development of the technology “has posed significant challenges,” the program office has worked with Lockheed over the past two years to identify fixes, DellaVedova said.

“Improvements to the Gen 2 helmet are planned and being phased into production,” he said.

The second-generation helmet that pilots currently use will meet the needs for the Marine Corps to begin operational flights of the F-35 in July 2015, DellaVedova said.

The third-generation helmet — including an improved night-vision camera, new liquid-crystal displays, automated alignment and software improvements — will be introduced in 2016 as part of the seventh batch of Lightning II aircraft, DellaVedova said.

The Marine Corps version of the jet, called the F-35B, which can fly like a plane and land like a helicopter, is scheduled to begin operational flights by December 2015; the Air Force’s conventional version by December 2016 and the Navy’s carrier variant by February 2019.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons systems, estimated to cost $391 billion to develop and build 2,457 aircraft.

“The government’s decision to proceed exclusively with the principle helmet is indicative of their confidence in the helmet’s performance and the successful resolution of previously identified technical challenges,” Lorraine Martin, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 Lightning II Program, said in a statement.

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{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

BlackOwl18E October 10, 2013 at 5:51 pm

$45 million is nothing. This program has butchered the budget. Whole thing needs to be scrapped.


treeshakertucker November 12, 2013 at 7:04 am

The US cannot back out of the program without incurring the wrath of the foreign countries they are selling the aircraft to. this is because many of these countries have based their defence plan around the F-35.


BlackOwl18E November 12, 2013 at 8:43 am

That's ********. Those countries haven't based their defense plans on F-35s. For most of them we pay the price for their defense and we are the ones who based our plan on F-35s. We need to change our plans and scrap this thing. It is so expensive that everything else must die in order for it to live.


Chuck October 10, 2013 at 7:55 pm

The program that really needs to be scrapped is the LCS. Money down the drain.


BlackOwl18E October 11, 2013 at 9:36 am

LCS needs to go too.


PolicyWonk October 11, 2013 at 10:45 am

Here's the problem – go and read the current article in Vanity Fair w/r/t the F-35/JSF. Then go and read the latest test results on Aviation Weeks web site. After that, go and review the history of JSF, the number of times the mission profile requirements have been dropped, and take into account that this aircraft isn't even close to meeting even the multiple-times reduced mission profile requirements.

Then consider the massive cost of these aircraft, for which they barely exceed 3rd generation fighter performance at a 5th generation price.

Then ask yourself – why is this program still being allowed to continue, when it delivers such lousy value to the taxpayer?

That said – LCS is also an appalling waste of money for so little benefit. Both programs are depicted as a huge win for Lockheed's boardroom (and potential adversaries), and a horrifying loss to the US taxpayer and warfighter.


ames October 11, 2013 at 1:17 pm

We know the answer already; it's because those who profit from such programs have full control of the majority of lawmakers in Congress. Big defense and logistics contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Halliburton etc have more power over elected representatives than the voters do.

There is a reason why so many people call America a phony democracy. It's because America is indeed a phony democracy.


William_C1 October 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm

IIRC there have been two changes to the requirements (one mainly dealing with a 50 foot increase in takeoff run for the F-35B) and yes the aircraft can meet the reduced ones. These revisions to the requirements should never have been necessary but nothing ever goes as planned.


Ziv October 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm

The first change in the requirements was relatively minor, but the second set were pretty bad, especially for the F-35C.
_ The program announced an intention to change performance specifications for the F-35A, reducing turn performance from 5.3 to 4.6 sustained g’s and extending the time for acceleration from 0.8 Mach to 1.2 Mach by eight seconds,” Gilmore’s report stated. The F-35B and F-35C also had their turn rates and acceleration time eased. The B-model jet’s max turn went from 5.0 to 4.5 g’s and its acceleration time to Mach 1.2 was extended by 16 seconds. The F-35C lost 0.1 g off its turn spec and added a whopping 43 seconds to its acceleration. _
The F-35 was never going to be an air superiority fighter like the F-22 but this is a bit disappointing. But there is a second engine competing for sales, so maybe the acceleration issues could be improved with higher thrust units in a couple years! Uhhh… Never mind.


William_C1 October 15, 2013 at 1:52 am

I've read the large acceleration time increase with the F-35C had something to due with transonic buffeting, an issue that will hopefully be corrected.

Steve Dixon December 19, 2013 at 6:20 am

F-35A – Max turn = 4.6 sustained G's?
F-35B – Max turn = 4.5 sustained G's?
F-35C – ????
That's gotta be a joke – right? I thought the F-35 was meant to be a Strike FIGHTER!
All the high tech whizz-bangery on earth doesn't mean a thing if you can't out-turn your opponent. What's the point of the gun if you can be out-turned by a Cessna 172.
This is beginning to match the "search" for a decent set of Cammo uniforms for ridiculousness along with that crazy LCS piece of garbage.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL – just doesn't (fit that is).

tiger October 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm
hibeam October 10, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Keep the helmet. Scrap the F-35.


tiger October 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Why? The post is about scraping a secondary helmet. The more advanced one is moving ahead to production.


Rest Pal October 16, 2013 at 1:28 am

By "more advanced one" you are referring to the design goals, certainly not the actual product.

Keep the helmet and scrap the F-35 as a reminder of the monumental failure of the program; it's a lot cheaper to keep a few thousand helmets than a few thousand F-35s. Empty helmets serve as a good metaphor – it was a program conceived and managed by people with no brains.


Benja October 17, 2013 at 5:03 pm

LOL. I suggest an even cheaper way, three sculptures of the F-35s (A, B, C) made of soda, beer and sardine fish cans tied together using discarded cables and electrical wirings. One in front of the White House. One in front of Congress. One in front of the Pentagon.


blight_ October 13, 2013 at 11:48 pm

What's the point of keeping the helmet without the F-35?

It's like giving an Formula 1 car to Neanderthals. Why?


Rest Pal October 16, 2013 at 1:30 am

As a reminder of the program's massive failure – a plane no one would want to fly in a real war against a properly armed foe.


Guest October 11, 2013 at 1:36 am

I am not happy that the US is partnering with other countries to develop such cutting-edge military technologies. Something like the Stryker or the M9 off-the-shelf is one thing – a non-controversial product that anyone could develop. But for something like this, it is much more advanced and we have the technological expertise here in the US to do it. We should develop it ourselves, and if other countries don't want to buy it from us, too bad for them.


Joe October 11, 2013 at 4:37 am

In fairness, BAE is designing and building a fair chunk of the *plane*, too. If you don't trust them then the F-35 project has bigger problems than an alternative helmet with night vision goggles on it.


Guest October 11, 2013 at 7:52 am

BAE – foreign. How does that contradict my point? Moreover, I'm not a huge fan of the F-35 program in general – I'm not saying that foreign contracting is the root of its problems. I'm just saying that the US has the technical and industrial capacity to design and build its own weapons, as well as a security imperative to do so. Why rely on other countries? It is an unnecessary risk.


blight_ October 11, 2013 at 11:18 am

The real plan is to use foreign money to underwrite the doodads.

Lockheed will probably get a Lightweight Fighter contract as a reward for delivering the JSF.


blight_ October 11, 2013 at 9:38 am

…Elbit really kicked off the helmet-mounted display systems. They're "the guys".

The Russians had a proto-helmet system too. Would you rather collaborate with them? /shudder


Guest October 11, 2013 at 6:50 pm

No, I'd rather that we do it ourselves. Is my point really so hard to understand?


blight_ October 11, 2013 at 7:10 pm

It would be nice, but we'd be re-inventing the wheel and chalking it up to R&D.

Israel developed the first Dash HMD's. The Soviets did too. We passed and chalked up air superiority to long-range BVR missiles. We won't need off-bore Sidewinders with AMRAAMs…until all of a sudden, we decided we wanted those too.

Look at Land Warrior's painful deployment in the '90s, and the OICW. When you decide to forge new ground on your own, it's costly. However, there's an argument to be made for whether or not collaboration with foreign companies eased the pain for us because HMDS is well /beyond/ what is available today.


Guest October 14, 2013 at 1:27 am

Yeah, well, I might find your viewpoint more convincing if the Elbit system made by "The Guys" were actually working, after years and untold dollars in development. I don't see why Americans can't design such a system any faster/better/cheaper.

tiger October 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm

If you want sales, you need to spread the subcontracting work. You need to move in to how the world works today.


Guest October 11, 2013 at 1:45 am

As a corollary to my previous post, I find this particularly true for a non-NATO country like Israel. Even if Israel were a NATO country, I would be uncomfortable with this arrangement. However, at least within NATO, there is a mutual-defense treaty in place.


dutch and annoyed October 11, 2013 at 6:21 am

if you had give the design job to the Israelis in the first place it would have functioned within time and above expectations. the 9,5 pilots of my country who will eventually have the "honor" flying the f35 better pray that the US military industrial complex hasn't fcked up again. oh and the figure of 9,5 pilots is before another "unexpected and unfortunate" screw up will increase the price.


Guest October 11, 2013 at 7:48 am

I agree that the F-35 program has been deeply troubled. However, the Netherlands chose to participate – it could have chosen Eurofighter instead.


Richard October 11, 2013 at 11:16 am
Richard October 11, 2013 at 11:17 am
Guest October 11, 2013 at 7:59 am

And, in fact, my understanding is that the Dutch parliament recently had a chance to review the F-35 purchase, and chose to confirm it. Is that incorrect?


Popsiq October 11, 2013 at 8:43 am

Without helmets … they're an option that comes with the signals-absorbing paint finish and thrush muffler system..


still annoyed October 11, 2013 at 9:49 am

yep, you're not the only one with a sub-optimal working parliament. worse, our prime minister of that period sold the f35 because "we will get it for a fixed price."


Popsiq October 11, 2013 at 8:46 am

They Israelis have never used the weapons they been given to, knowingly, attack the donors. There as been at least one glaring accident, however.


Popsiq October 11, 2013 at 8:41 am

The latest development is that the 'old' helmet is too large to fit inside the roomy F35 cockpit, necessitating a complete redesign of the canopy/ejection system. Apparently it's starting to look like 'Darth Vader' in Spaceballs.


moondawg October 11, 2013 at 10:17 am

We can entrust our health delivery and very lives to the federal government. Why should we not trust them to build an airplane and design a flight helment?


PolicyWonk October 11, 2013 at 10:38 am

We can entrust our health delivery and very lives to the federal government,
Actually, you'd be very hard pressed to find a member of the GOP in either house of representatives that aren't using the government-sponsored/single-payer health plan ALL of them use, and ALL of them keep after they retire – yet don't want YOU to have.


blight_ October 11, 2013 at 11:17 am

Congresscritters buy their insurance through the federal exchange, which is where federal employees get their insurance as well. They probably use private doctors. Not a lot of doctors in public service-they either work for NIH, CDC, the PHS (under DHHS) the military, or the VA.


oblatt1 October 11, 2013 at 10:22 am

45 million is of course peanuts the main problem was that the helmet worked and thus posed a huge problem for the principal helmet which is a disaster.

This is all about protecting that boondoggle from competition. From Lockheed's point of view its already done immense damage by reducing what they change by 12%


hibeam October 11, 2013 at 11:53 am

Why can't we just buy the Chinese version of the F-35 helmet? $25 at Walmart.


Rest Pal October 11, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Walmart misquoted the price, I think. It's $25K each if Walmart buys 1 Million units with advance payment.


Mitch S. October 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Dateline 2024:
The Air Force suspended two pilots for using an unapproved helmet in their F35s.
The helmets originally made for gamers are available for $159.00 retail.
According to an Air Force captain who declined to be named " These are the same helmets kids use to play 3D video games, we just made a simple interface box so it can work with the legacy electronics on the F35. This helmet works way better and is much more reliable than the one the AF wants us to use but they refuse to let us use it."


William_C1 October 12, 2013 at 7:03 am

Must be a hell of a game console to have a helmet that can withstand 9Gs among other things.


blight_ October 12, 2013 at 12:06 pm

And it's probably moot. A bird in hand in 2024 is worth 3 birds in 2014.

There's a gradient between bleeding-edge and mature technologies, and where you fall is based on your willingness to pay.


ames October 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Time for the Pentagon to scrap itself. It's draining the American taxpayers like a vampire.


William_C1 October 11, 2013 at 2:53 pm

How the hell would that even work? Are you implying the rest of the government is working well?


Tom Billings October 11, 2013 at 3:33 pm

The Congress would just reinstate it under another name, and change the names on the door frames. The real problem is with a Congress addicted to their ability to adapt cost+ contracting to get the votes they need to be re-elected.

That is the great threat posed by the Space Act Agreements NASA has started, IMHO. Too many can people look at the performance under those contracts. They are not paid a *fixed* amount until they perform *fixed* requirements. The accountants working the cost+ contracts know that if the DoD shifted to similar agreements, the ability to add profits automatically would die, as would the ability of the accountants to rise within their corporate structures so easily. We canna ha' that, now can we?

If Only!


SMSgtMac October 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Bizarre conspiracy theories aside ('alternative helmet cancelled… because it worked'?– Too funny!) I love this stuff. I must say, the F-35 program seems to be at a watershed moment for the 'anti' crowd: they appear to be moving to the next faux outrage over another weapon system they are ignorant about. Sweet.
It is oddly satisfying to see a F-35 h8er thread go off the rails out of the gate and start slamming a completely different weapons system. The fact a positive F-35 news article was the tripwire is even more satisfying.
"The times they are a changin'.


Charles P, October 11, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Amen. …and somebody actually cited the Vanity Fair article as a credible source. ..bunch of self-appointed expert, new media drones on here. Fortunately, those of us who actually have relevant experience in aerospace are there to educate them. Winslow Wheeler and Pierre Sprey (2 more irrelevant and biased sources couldn't be found on this Earth) are used again and again as "expert" sources for the inevitable hitpieces on the F-35, while 1,000s of better informed people people are still waiting for that phone call……….


Rest Pal October 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Vanity Fair articles and stories generally carry more weight and truth than those from the White House, the Pentagon, the Congress, and propaganda outlets like Fox, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC … etc


Tim UK October 12, 2013 at 1:33 pm

America's biggest threat ? Lockheed ! They must be run by Chinese and Russian Sleeper agents as they are single handedly reducing the Airpower of the US via badly designed and poorly performing so called 5th gen fighters and subsequent fleet reductions to the insane price per plane.

A disaster.


Bob October 13, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Strange that yahoo news said that Israel is going to build a new helmet for the F-35 and will market it to the US. Did we just screw a long time partner, and decide to purchase from a country that buys from us with money we give them, that wants to sell to US to make a profit on our own money in the first place. Sorry, if that reads a little weird, but it sounds kind of like a money laundering scheme done by law makers, not law breakers.


SMSgtMac October 13, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Breaking 'Bob' News. The helmet that's staying is the ORIGINAL choice. It was the best choice then, and now the JSFPO has decided it is the best choice going forward. Rockwell/VSI are the makers of the helmet-of-record. This isn't their first helmet for the US of A or anyone else — They are an industry leader, and proud of it.
"Our fixed-wing HMS technology is the basis for the U.S. Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System program (JHMCS.) Through VSI®, all frontline U.S. F-15, F-16, F/A-18, and F-22 aircraft are equipped with the JHMCS. Our preeminence in the field extends to helicopter HMSs, particularly in the attack rotorcraft HMS market where our ANVIS/HUD® is the preferred choice for utility rotorcraft platforms. More than 5,000 helicopters worldwide are equipped with our ANVIS HUD® systems"
Now, what was that again about 'money laundering'?
Facts not innuendo please.


Super Tex October 13, 2013 at 8:21 pm

My Grandfather worked for Lockheed in WWII he worked in the original Skunk Works. He worked on the prototype P-80 Shooting Star. So it is with great sadness that I say this. The F-35 is junk, a one peg that fits in three holes just doesn't work. Kill this thing now, bite the bullet and bring back the F-22. Sorry Marines but we need a jump jet like we need a hole in the head.


Jess October 15, 2013 at 2:22 am

Can we get 1 person who thinks for them selves please?
And what will you do when the F-35 is canceled? will you fly F-16s until 2040?
Thank god seasoned professionals are building this plane and not internet trolls.


blight_ October 15, 2013 at 12:22 pm

We'll just procure something based on the smoking ruin of the precedent program. It worked for the Seawolf.

Unfortunately, buying something from the makers of the F-22 didn't translate into cost-savings, so…


USAF Ret. October 17, 2013 at 12:38 am

F22- It'll out fight the F-35 hands down. And it's faster, cheaper, and proven.


Benja October 17, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Jess, you obviously know nothing about the F-16 nor the F-35. More importantly, you know nothing about the politics of welfare for the defense industry, which runs the country.


blight_ October 14, 2013 at 7:48 am

True that.

Perhaps the more sinister answer is that Elbit is a patent troll, and they were brought onboard because it'd be cheaper than licensing?


Guest October 14, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Can non-NATO countries actually sue us for developing our own versions of defense technologies? I sort of thought that in the context of international copyright laws, defense (especially between NATO/non-NATO countries) was special – it is totally understandable why a country might want to develop its own capability rather than licensing it.


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