Attrition: Expensive New Headgear Can't Take A Bump

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December 25,2008: So many JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems) have been damaged in use, that the U.S. Navy and Air Force have had to develop new repair methods to get the dinged ones back into action quickly. Otherwise, pilots were likely to have a shortage of the high-tech, and very useful, JHMCS helmets. The improved repair program also came up with changes in how the helmets are manufactured, which made them more resistant to damage.

So far, the U.S. Air Force and Navy have bought several thousand JHMCS systems for F-16s, F-18s, F-15s and by F-22s. The JHMCS allows a pilot to see, displayed on his visor, critical flight and navigation information. Sort of like a see-through computer monitor or Head Up Display. Most importantly, the pilot can turn his head towards a target, get an enemy aircraft into the crosshairs displayed on the visor, and fire a missile that will promptly go after target the pilot was looking at. There is an additional advantage in letting the pilot look around more often without having to look down at cockpit displays, or straight ahead at a HUD (Head Up Display.) This kind of freedom gives an experienced pilot an extra edge in finding enemy aircraft or targets, and maneuvering to get into a better position for attacks. JHMCS is also useful for air-to-ground attacks. Each JHMCS costs about $60,000. Before the new repair methods (costing about a thousand dollars per helmet) were developed, many damaged helmets were simply junked. The most common damage was the display and associated electronics getting knocked out when the helmet hit the canopy, caused by violent maneuvers during training, or combat.

Quick and economic repair of JHMCS is even more critical for the new U.S. F-35 fighter. This will be the first fighter in nearly four decades that will not have a "Head Up Display" (or HUD, which is a see-though display in front pilot that displays system information). Instead, the F-35 pilots will use an upgraded version of the JHMCS. The F-35 version will be more precise, and will display more types of visual information. The pilot will be able to change what is displayed with verbal commands.

Systems like JHMCS have been around for over a decade, but JHMCS is lighter and easier to wear (weight was a major problem in the past), easier to use and more reliable (if you don't bump into the canopy). The Israelis firm Elbit took the lead in developing this technology, and made many technical breakthroughs with their earlier DASH (Display and Sight Helmet) system. Elbit teamed up with American firms to develop and market JHMCS, which is largely an improved DASH system. Israel is getting its F-35s at about the same time the U.S. Air Force does (in about five years), and the Israelis will use a version of their DASH helmet for their hundred F-35s.

 


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