The United States Marine Corps (USMC) has completed the first AH-1Z Viper flight with Link-16, demonstrating in-flight testing of a two-way link between the helicopter and a ground station using new Link-16 hardware and software.

The AH-1Z Viper is manufactured by Bell Textron, while Northrop Grumman developed the Link-16 system.

AH-1Z conducted the first flight with the digital interoperability (DI) suite, a new capability for the H-1 platform.

The suite includes Link 16 and ANW2 data links, and a digital moving map, enabling the H-1 platform to display information from these data links on a common display.

Additionally, the DI suite modernises the way data is loaded to and from the H-1 platform.

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

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Link-16 enables the AH-1Z helicopter to use its fully integrated anti-air capability and AIM-9 Sidewinder to obtain and share information from its sensors with other weapons systems using its onboard digital architecture.

This is possible through Link-16 package that consists of a new digital moving map, a new security architecture, and the Link-16 and Advanced Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2) datalinks.

Northrop Grumman navigation, targeting and survivability vice-president James Conroy said: “Northrop Grumman’s Link-16 system will help US Marines today, and well into the future, with critical technology that facilitates coordination, collaboration, and interoperability.

“By enabling the display and integration of Link-16 data with the H-1 system, pilots of the AH-1Z have greater situational awareness and enhanced survivability.”

The effort was led by PMA-276 and is a collaboration of the PMA-276 Avionics Integrated Product Team, government and industry partners.

These partners include Northrop Grumman, Bell, Kranze Tech Solutions, NAWCAD, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, J.F. Taylor, and Booz Allen Hamilton.

The USMC plans to conduct flight tests for the AH-1Z throughout the summer. Initial fleet integration is expected next year.