The U.S. Air Force Test Center (AFTC) at Edwards AFB, Calif. plans to issue a sole source contract to the United Kingdom’s Martin Baker Aircraft Co. for 16 high-fidelity simulated US16E cockpit ejection seats for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 in support of the aircraft program’s Joint Simulation Environment (JSE) testing.

“A high-fidelity F-35 cockpit seat is required for the high-fidelity F-35 simulator that will be used by JSE as the System Under Test (SUT) for both developmental and operational test, as well as high end advanced training and tactics development purposes,” AFTC said in a federal contracts notice on May 19.

The Air Force and Martin Baker redesigned the US16E ejection seat in 2017 due to safety concerns for pilots weighing less than 136 pounds–a redesign that decreased the space available in the F-35 cockpit for future modifications.

A big challenge to Defense Department approval of F-35 full-rate production has been JSE testing, which is to assess how the F-35 will fare against advanced threats. A delay in that testing has pushed back the full-rate production decision, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said in February that the completion of such testing is “long overdue” (Defense Daily, Feb. 24). The F-35 Joint Program Office has said that it now expects the completion of JSE testing by the end of next year.

The program established JSE for F-35 initial operational test and evaluation some five years ago after the program decided to take over work on the simulation environment from Lockheed Martin.

AFTC justified the sole source decision to Martin Baker for the JSE simulated US16E ejection seats on May 19 by saying that Martin Baker “owns the design information required to manufacture a high-fidelity simulated ejection seat.”

“These seats include the aircraft-specific connections for the Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) system,” per AFTC. Collins Elbit Vision Systems–a joint venture between Collins Aerospace [RTX] and Elbit Systems of America [ELST]–builds the F-35 HMD.

“Martin-Baker simulated ejection seats are used in all known high fidelity F-35 simulator crew-stations – the only application for this product,” AFTC said. “The ejection seat replication needs to be as nearly identical to the aircraft as the technology permits. The non-kinetic functionality of the F-35 ejection seat, e.g., ejection seat actuation, seat adjustments, backup O2 [oxygen] controls, seat arming/seat safe, etc., is needed for the simulation architecture. The high-fidelity LM [Lockheed Martin] cockpit integrated to JSE, including all cockpit, controls, displays, HOTAS [hands on throttle-and-stick], etc., relies on the proper fit, function, and technical performance of the replica Martin Baker hardware.”

The F-35 JPO at Patuxent River, Md.  recently received a preliminary analysis by Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute that the JSE is feasible–an important step to complete JSE and move the F-35 toward a full-rate production decision by the Pentagon (Defense Daily, May 13).

But the F-35 program executive officer, Air Force Lt. Gen. Erick Fick, said that the main purpose of a Pentagon full-rate production approval will be to mute criticism of the program since “we are effectively at full-rate production today.”