When Radar, NVGs, FLIR and Basic Synthetic Vision Just Aren't Enough

Modern fighter pilots get a lot of toys to help survive and beat their opponents. Radar, night vision goggles (NVGs,) Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) all help them see in the dark and through the weather. Even civilian aircraft are starting to get enhanced vision systems (take a look at the North West Husky website for some cool pictures and videos.)

I didn't know it, but it appears that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has picked up a brand-new toy that boasts capabilities so impressive I almost don't believe they're real. The system is called the Electro-optical Distributed Aperture System, or EO DAS for short.

The DAS is based on 6 sensors embedded into the skin of the aircraft. Computers fuse the images they produce and together they provide visibility in every direction around the aircraft. The imagery is displayed on the pilot's visor and can be used for all kinds of purposes. The system can detect enemy aircraft and missile launches and automatically cue radar or weapons to those threats. It helps keep visibility of wingmen and provides visibility of the ground...even if the pilot is looking down though the floor. These are pretty amazing capabilities...if it works as well as they claim.

A Northrop Grumman press release mentioned testing of this system as early as 2005. I hope by now they've worked out any kinks and have a working system. With something this complex though I wonder how it's working out.

I wrote a while ago about some criticism of the F-35 and people wondering why it wouldn't be better to just go with an off-the-shelf system like the F-18E/F. The DAS is definitely something that will give the F-35 an edge in a fight, but couldn't the same system be installed in an F-18, Eurofighter or other jet?

I don't know that there's must use debating that point any more. The F-35 is here to stay. Hopefully they enjoy the new toys that come along with it.

I feel a bit bad for F-35 pilots though. The young wingmen are going to grow up and not understand some of the classic songs like 2's Blind. (How could you ever go blind with a system like this EO DAS?) Poor young-ins...they're going to miss out.