One of the longest-standing questions I’ve been asked about the F-22A Raptor is this: “why is there no helmet-mounted display for the pilot? All the other jets have them, so why not the F-22?”
I have heard a few reasons, and most have to do with the period of time when the Raptor was designed. For example, there was no high off-boresight (HOBS) air-to-air missile in the U.S. inventory at the time, and there was almost no work being done on helmet-mounted displays outside of the strike fighter community.
As the AIM-9X started its development in the late 1990s, there was also fact the Raptor carried its missiles internally, negating the pilot’s ability to manipulate the targeting data for the seeker until after the weapon had been fired. Because the AIM-9X is so fast and capable, it was almost pointless to try to steer it or adjust the point of aim after it had been fired.
Another important consideration is the shape of the Raptor’s canopy. Much like the T-6 Texan of yesteryear, the F-22 canopy is wide at the cockpit rails, then gradually narrows as it reaches the top, limiting the pilot’s head-space. Inevitably, there would be damage caused to the canopy by the HMD coming in contact with the material during air-to-air engagements, particularly defensive BFM, when the pilot would be all over the cockpit, looking for threats behind him.
Lastly, some would say the Air Force was so confident in the aircraft’s ability to kill its opponents before they got close enough to engage with a Heater, they didn’t think such a capability was necessary, either. That perspective is short-sighted and smacks of the thinking that modern fighters don’t need a gun, too, so I’ll just leave that one right there.
Segue to the present day, where the Air Force has recently drafted a program schedule and requirements list to deliver a helmet-mounted display no later than 2020.
The HMD concept was originally made a “program requirement” as far back as 2007, years after the JHMCS capability had been fielded in legacy U.S. fighters, as well as the Eurofighter Typhoon. Thanks to squestration, a test and evaluation of the “Scorpion” HMIT was canceled in 2013.
Published in a document earlier this month, the F-22 Program Office is looking to field a “mature” HMD for a four-year operational test and evaluation period starting in 2017, with simulator tests in 2018, and finally a flight test program in 2019. That means the finished product would be ready for the CAF by 2020. The system must be able to be mounted on the existing HGU-55/P-CE helmet currently in use by Raptor pilots, without any reduced field of view or degradation across the F-22’s entire insane performance envelope.
Without JHMCS or HMIT, the F-22 has already shown it can fare just fine. In an engagement eight years ago, two F-22s were to take off and engage eight F-15Cs from the 65 AGRS, all equipped with AIM-9X and JHMCS. One of the Raptors ground-aborted, so the second jet took off single-ship as fragged. The engagement started beyond visual range and finished within visual range, with the Raptor killing all eight of its opponents before any were able to even get a shot off.
“I can’t see the [expletive deleted] thing,” said RAAF Squadron Leader Stephen Chappell, exchange F-15 pilot in the 65th Aggressor Squadron at the time. “It won’t let me put a weapons system on it, even when I can see it visually through the canopy. [Flying against the F-22] annoys the hell out of me.”
It’s hard to imagine the F-22 being more lethal, but with the advent of the HMD, AIM-9X and AIM-120D–both slated to come with the increment 3.2B upgrade very soon, the Raptor’s talons are getting even sharper.