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October 11, 2013 12:43 pm

Israel Engineering Co Wins Lockheed Martin Contract to Supply ‘Smart Helmets’ for New F-35 Fighter Jets

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avatar by Joshua Levitt

An F-35 Lightning II.

Israeli engineering company Elbit Systems Ltd., in partnership with U.S. firm Rockwell Collins Inc., won a new contract to supply “smart helmets” for Lockheed Martin’s next generation F-35 fighter jet, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Friday.

The Elbit-designed “Helmet Mounted Display System” projects real-time images onto its visor, allowing a pilot access to more computer-based information, from weather conditions to night vision. The screen also projects images from six infrared cameras around the fuselage, providing the pilot with access to what’s usually unknown once the jet is airborne.

According to Reuters, Rockwell-Elbit recovered the contract that early bugs with the helmets had threatened to lose. The U.S. Pentagon said because of the success now in testing the latest generation prototype, they were backing out of a 2011 project to replicate the Israeli technology by Britain’s BAE Systems Plc.

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A Lockheed spokeswoman said the company had spent about $57 million on the British helmet to date, with total investment slated to reach $104 million. Awarding the contract again to the Elgin consortium would save $47 million, she said.

Lockheed said the move was a vote of confidence in the helmet and the siruccessful efforts to resolve its earlier problems. “To date, more than 100 F-35 pilots have flown more than 6,000 flights and 10,000 hours with the helmet, and their feedback has been very positive,” said Lorraine Martin, Lockheed executive vice president and F-35 general manager.

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

In a statement, the F-35 program office said the new “Gen 3” version of the helmet developed by the Rockwell-Elbit joint venture would cost 12 percent less than previously estimated.

The new helmet would be introduced to the F-35 fleet in 2016 as part of the seventh batch of jets to be built under low-rate production, it said. The U.S. Marine Corps will use the current “Gen 2” helmet when it begins using the new warplanes in combat in mid-2015.

In addition to a better night vision camera, the latest version of the helmet will include liquid-crystal displays, automated alignment and software improvements.

The bugs fixed in the latest version included removing a green glow that made it difficult for some pilots to fly at night, closing a time lag in data being displayed on the visor, and correcting for some “jitter” during high-angle turns.

On Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon toured the Lockheed Martin factory in Texas where the F-35s are being built.

At $392 billion, the F-35 program is the Pentagon’s most expensive project.

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