Pentagon to focus on Rockwell-Elbit helmet for F-35 jet

Reuters

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON, Oct 10 (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Thursdayit would halt work on a second pilot helmet being developed forthe F-35 fighter jet by Britain's BAE Systems Plc, andfocus exclusively on the main helmet built by Rockwell CollinsInc and Israel's Elbit Systems Ltd.

The Pentagon's F-35 program office said the move followedimprovements to the Rockwell-Elbit helmet, including a betternight vision camera, and would save about $45 million in fundingthat would have been needed to finish the BAE helmet.

Lockheed said the move amounted to a vote of confidence inthe main helmet and efforts to resolve earlier problems.

"To date, more than 100 F-35 pilots have flown more than6,000 flights and 10,000 hours with the helmet, and theirfeedback has been very positive," said Lorraine Martin, Lockheedexecutive vice president and F-35 general manager.

Lockheed Martin Corp is building three variants ofthe new single-seat, single-engine fighter plane for the U.S.military and eight countries that helped fund its development.

The plane comes with a sophisticated helmet that fuses datafrom the plane's many cameras and other sensors in the vizor, anadvanced new system that allows pilots to literally see throughthe wings and floor of the aircraft.

The Pentagon's F-35 program office and Lockheed hired BAESystems to start developing an alternate helmet in 2011 aftertechnical challenges emerged on the Rockwell-Elbit helmet thatis currently used in testing and training.

Lockheed spokeswoman Laura Siebert said the company hadspent about $57 million on the second helmet to date, with totalinvestment slated to reach $104 million. Ending the work on theprogram would save $47 million, she said.

F-35 program office spokesman Joe DellaVedova said Lockheedand BAE were negotiating the terms of halting work on thealternate helmet.

In a statement, the F-35 program office said the new "Gen 3"version of the helmet developed by the Rockwell-Elbit jointventure since then would cost 12 percent less than previouslyestimated. The new helmet would be introduced to the F-35 fleetin 2016 as part of the seventh batch of jets to be built underlow-rate production, it said.

The U.S. Marine Corps will use the current "Gen 2" helmetwhen it begins using the new warplanes in combat in mid-2015.

In addition to a better night vision camera, the new versionof the helmet also includes new liquid-crystal displays,automated alignment and software improvements.

Rockwell and Elbit developed the new version of the helmetto address concerns raised by Pentagon testers and pilots aboutthe current helmet, including a green glow that made itdifficult to fly at night, a lag in data being displayed on thevizor, and some "jitter" during high-angle turns.

The F-35 program office said the "Helmet Mounted DisplaySystem" gave fighter pilots all the information they needed tocomplete their missions - through all weather, day or night.

No comment was immediately available from BAE Systems.

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