Here are some interesting images of the F-35’s Helmet Mounted Display System.
The Helmet Mounted Display System is one of the most advanced system on the much debated F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
It integrates FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) and DAS (Distributed Aperture System) imaging, night vision and a virtual HUD (Head Up Display) that makes the F-35 the first front line combat plane without a “conventional” HUD: the main flight and weapon aiming information are projected onto a virtual HUD on the visor.
As explained when we saw one for the first time at Farnborough International Airshow in 2012, the helmet system collects all the information coming from the plane’s sensors along and fuses it with imagery fed by a set of six cameras mounted on the jet’s outer surfaces.
In this way, the HMDS provides the pilot with a X-ray vision-like imagery: he can see in all directions, and through any surface, with the HUD symbology he needs to fly the plane and cue weapons, through the line of sight imagery.
No matter where the pilot turns his head, the most relevant data he needs follows his eyes.
Needless to say, as many other F-35’s systems, the HMDS has suffered issues: whilst jitter and latency problems have been solved, there is still concern with turbulence and buffeting, that can cause display issues (particularly dangerous when the JSF is maneuvering to evade an enemy missile shot), decreased night-vision acuity, and information sharing when 3 or 4 aircraft fly together.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin
I read that the idea is to fuse the information of each plane and from ground sources into one entity so that the pilot is ‘aware’ of all the information that each individual source captures. Which sounds really nifty in theory but which has got to be a screamer of a nightmare to actually implement.
Ground source one sees two targets, ground source two sees two targets. They’re not seeing the same targets. In that instance GS1 and GS2 see one common target and each has a separate target the other doesn’t/can’t see. The plane itself sees one target that it has common with GS1 and no others. The second plane sees one target from GS1 and two from GS2 while at the same time seeing 2 targets that no other sources in the constellation sees. Now all that information has to be shared across the planes [and other sources?] in the constellation. How the hell do you avoid counting several targets double or maybe even triple?
I have an understanding of complex software environments and how that behaves in the real world and I can tell you that it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see how that becomes really ugly really fast. I would have very serious reservations about trusting a software system to deliver hard information about multiple targets as acquired by multiple sources and have that live update in the dynamic tactical situation of a combat theatre of operations. There is just way too much that can go wrong for that to work reliably.
What if one of the sources decides that one recently destroyed target is actually another destroyed target and updates that target such that it is no longer presented as a live threat. Only, the threat is still there but now the system has decided it’s no longer there. Surprise!!!
It’s my understanding that these planes have been deemed ‘combat ready’, at least for the air force. One other thing, from my experience, is that testing is something that program managers don’t like doing for too long. It takes a long time to do right, it costs a lot of money and maybe, just maybe, they don’t like the results that come back from the testing because those results indicates that more time and money needs to be spent developing and further testing the system. They don’t like that.
Now, for the F35, the testing tools were not even designed yet, and what they want that system to do is to co-operate in a dynamically updated environment where multiple sources acquire and share information in a live fire fight. I cannot imagine that a real, accurate and realistic test of that kind of environment would be easy, fast or cheap. It will be none of the above.
We know that planes have been delivered, we know the software blocks are not completed for most of the systems and we know that they have not been tested in live fire, or as-real-as-you-can-get-without-actually-shooting tests, from that perspective the management of this program is extremely problematic.
I don’t care about it being late and over budget, what else is new in the largest pork barrel program in the history of the species, I have a real problem with a platform that is nowhere near being combat ready and have it be hyped as such. At some point somebody is going to be asked to sit their ass in that clunker and take ‘them’ on in it. And it turns out there were a few things ‘they didn’t tell us at the briefing’.