NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Lockheed Martin Corp. brought one of its F-35 fighter jet simulators to an Army helicopter conference this week.
And the world’s largest defense contractor was itching to explain why: The aircraft’s so-called smart helmet display — which projects sensor data onto a visor rather than a cockpit display — could be adapted for use on future fleets of rotorcraft, company officials said.
Lockheed is making its pitch as the Army moves forward with the Joint Multi-Role, or JMR program to identify future helicopter designs. The research effort could eventually pave the way for a potential $100 billion Future Vertical Lift acquisition program to replace the service’s existing fleets of AH-64 Apaches and UH-60 Black Hawks.
“We want to use technology that the government and Lockheed Martin have spent billions of dollars developing,” Ed Whalen, who heads up rotary business development at Lockheed, said on Tuesday at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference, known as Quad A.
“We’re not trying to sell the F-35 to the Army — that doesn’t make any sense,” he added. “But the sensor fusion that the F-35 program has developed is tops. There’s nothing better … That can be ported over into JMR.”
During the conference, the company showed off the simulator to such leaders as Lt. Gen. James Barclay, deputy chief of staff for financial management, and Brig. Gen. Robert Marion, who heads up the Army’s aviation acquisition office, Whalen said.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons systems, estimated to cost $400 billion to develop and build 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
The Helmet Mounted Display System costs about $500,000 apiece and is made by Rockwell Collins Inc. It’s designed to provide pilots with 360-degree situational awareness in any kind of weather, day or night. The jet’s distributed aperture system streams real-time imagery from cameras and sensors mounted around the aircraft to the helmet, allowing pilot’s to “see through” windowless parts of the cockpit.
While development of the technology “has posed significant challenges,” the Defense Department has worked with Lockheed over the past two years to identify fixes, Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the program office, said in October after the Pentagon canceled development of an alternative helmet made by BAE Systems Plc.
But it still has bugs. When a news team from the CBS News program, “60 Minutes,” visited the Marine Corps station in Yuma, Ariz., a helmet malfunction caused a scheduled flight to be scrubbed, according to a Feb. 16 segment about the plane.
F-35 pilots currently use the program’s second-generation helmet. A third-generation helmet is designed in part to correct minor technical issues and is expected to be ready in 2016.