NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, MD– For the first time in flight, the AH-1Z Viper established a two-way connection between a ground station and the aircraft’s Link 16 and Advanced Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2) systems.

A new capability for the H-1 platform, the digital interoperability (DI) suite includes Link 16 and ANW2 data links, a gateway to share information across various networks. Additionally, the suite includes a new digital moving map, enabling the H-1 platform to display information from these data links on a common display.

Engineers from the USMC Light/Attack Helicopters program office (PMA-276) and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 monitor the Mobile Systems Integration Lab, a ground station designed by Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) to validate the digital interoperability suite’s connection with the AH-1Z during flight. During the one-hour flight, conducted by HX-21, pilots successfully communicated with a multiband networking manpack radio, the PRC-117G, and ground lab. Credit: Joy Shrum / NAVAIR News

The DI suite also modernizes how data is loaded to and from the H-1 platform.

“The H-1 has decades of battlefield experience, it has evolved to fight in numerous environments,” said Col. Vasilios Pappas, USMC H-1 Light/Attack Helicopters program office (PMA-276)program manager. “The integration of these data links aligns with this platforms’ ability to adapt to the ever-changing threat and meet the needs of current and future warfighters.”

Link 16 and ANW2 enable the AH-1Z to rapidly share information with other weapon systems, provide greater situational awareness, accelerate the kill chain, and enhance survivability to outmaneuver and defeat the threat across a range of military operations.

During the one-hour flight, conducted by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21, pilots successfully communicated with a multiband networking manpack radio, the PRC-117G, and the Mobile Systems Integration Lab, a ground station designed by Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) to validate the suite’s connection with the aircraft.

An AH-1Z Viper assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 takes off from Naval Air Station Patuxent River. During the test flight, the AH-1Z established a two way connection between a ground station and the aircraft’s Link 16 and Advanced Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2) systems for the first time. Credit: Joy Shrum / NAVAIR News

“The flight was a success and went exactly as expected,” said USMC Capt. Jason Grimes, the first flight pilot and H-1 project officer with HX-21. “There is still work to be done before fleet integration, but it was a step in the right direction in getting a much needed capability to the HMLA [Marine Light Attack Helicopter] squadrons.”

The DI suite includes a new radio, processor, and mission computer software to integrate the information from this new data link onto a new digital map interface. This capability enables the AH-1Z to directly exchange critical data with other Marine Corps and Navy aviation and shipboard systems.

“The flight is the culmination hours of hard work and innovation. I am very proud of the government and industry team’s dedication to making this critical capability for the Marine Corps a reality,” said Pappas.

Led by PMA-276, the effort was a collaboration of the PMA-276 Avionics Integrated Product Team, numerous government and industry partners, including Northrop Grumman, Bell, Kranze Tech Solutions, NAWCAD, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, J.F. Taylor, and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Flight test on the AH-1Z will continue through the summer, with initial fleet integration expected in 2022. In addition, the program is working with industry and HX-21 to flight test the same DI suite on the UH-1Y Venom later this spring.

PMA-276 manages the cradle to grave procurement, development, support, fielding, and disposal of the Marine Corps rotary wing close air support, anti-armor, armed escort, armed/visual reconnaissance, and fire support program systems.


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