USN's VX-31 Delivers New Night Vision Capability to Iraq

1/17/2008 - Two Marines assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 31 (VX-31) at NAWCWD China Lake recently traveled to Iraq to deliver a new night vision capability to Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron (VMFA(AW))-225. The Night Vision Cueing and Display (NVCD) system provides Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) functionality integrated into night vision devices providing improved situational awareness for pilots during night flights.

“It felt great to take this new technology to those who need it the most – a Hornet Squadron operating around the clock in Iraq,” said Maj. Danny Johnson, F/A-18 Test and Evaluation military deputy for VX-31. “They were extremely excited to get this system that significantly improves their support to Marines on the ground.”

The new night vision system is a follow-on to the JHMCS, a joint effort between the Navy and the Air Force. Testing of the JHMCS is complete, and more than 2,000 day helmets have been delivered to the Navy, Marine Corps and the Air Force over the last 10 years. The Navy and Marine Corps use the day helmet system in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and have begun installing the system into the F/A-18C. Installation of a dual seat capable system into the F/A-18D is scheduled to begin later this year. The JHMCS projects the information shown on the heads-up display in the aircraft onto the pilot’s helmet visor.

“We’ve taken that very successful day helmet a step forward to an integrated night vision system,” Johnson said. “The new system acts as a force multiplier because it fuses together all the sensors in the jet for both the front and back seats as well as between aircraft in the same network.”

The QuadEye NVCD system incorporates the same symbology - including airspeed and altitude, heading, and where the aircraft sensors are looking - shown in the JHMCS into a four-tube night vision goggle. The only difference is that it is injected into a tube on the goggles overlaying the night scene. There is also a camera mounted on the goggle that records everything, which serves as a useful post-flight debrief tool. The two outer tubes can be removed creating a two-tube version, known as Mini-QuadEye.

The Mini-QuadEye had only been cleared for use by VX-31 and VX-9. The F/A-18 Program Office (PMA-265) at NAVAIR headquarters arranged an interim flight clearance for VMFA(AW)-225 to fly the two-tube goggles during actual fleet operations. The four-tube goggles do not have a flight clearance yet but they will be tested soon at NAWCWD’s Supersonic Naval Ordnance Research Track to confirm safe ejection.

Johnson and Maj. Chad Sund, VX-31 operations officer, took two sets of Mini-QuadEye goggles to VMFA(AW)-225 for assistance in developmental testing. Johnson and Sund spent a week with the squadron, which has two aircraft modified for the JHMCS.

“It’s almost unheard of for something to have such favorable integrated test reviews , allowing combat exposure without having first completed developmental testing (DT) and operational testing (OT) first,” said Tim Hofer, QuadEye lead at NAWCWD’s F/A-18 and EA-18G Advanced Weapons Lab (AWL). “There was a big voice from the fleet asking for this new capability.”

An approved Universal Urgent Need Statement from Marine Corps headquarters helped clear the way for a flight clearance for the VFMA(AW)-225 Vikings. The Vikings have been flying combat missions with the Mini-QuadEye every night since December 2007 and will continue to fly with them until March. Reports from the squadron say that the Mini-QuadEye enables pilots to acquire and share target information much easier and faster at night.

“We are hearing that it significantly increases their situational awareness at night, and provides a much more useful night scene than the current night vision system,” Johnson said. VMFA(AW)-225 Vikings have accrued over 60 flight hours and “Response is very positive,” according to a recent Viking flight report.

While in theater, Johnson flew several missions with the Vikings and said that being able to experience current operations in person was a strong reminder about who he is working for, and reemphasized the importance of his team’s work here in the acquisition world.

“I was able to see firsthand how much better the Mini-QuadEye is compared to the current night vision system especially when flying over urban areas,” Johnson said. “The blooms are smaller so you can discern city blocks and houses easier, and the bright lights in the foreground don’t blank out the terrain in the background.”

Configuring the JHMCS for the Mini-QuadEye is easy according to China Lake engineers. The goggles simply snap onto the front of the helmet and can be modified for individual preferences. The Crew Systems Program Office (PMA-202) at NAVAIR headquarters developed a few prototypes of the NVCD system three years ago, and VX-31 has been flying them as part of an initial concept demonstration, risk reduction, and validation program for about two years.

“The two-tube version is an 80 percent solution that requires the pilot to constantly turn his head to gather outside information,” said Steve Slay, QuadEye engineer at F/A-18 and EA-18G AWL. “The four-tube system significantly reduces the pilot workload. He can minimize his head movements and see the ground, cockpit and his wingman with normal periphery vision.”

Johnson and his team will release a full DT report in March, and it is expected that VX-9 will then conduct some type of OT assessment. If all goes well, there could be a production decision by the end of this calendar year.

“This is an example of everyone – NAVAIR and Headquarters Marine Corps, VX-31 developmental testers, VX-9 operational testers and the fleet - working together to get a much-needed capability out to the warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Mark Johnson, VX-31 Commanding Officer.

Source: USN Press Release by By Renee Hatcher

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