The US Army’s next-generation Block III Apache Attack helicopter has tested new technology which enables pilots to control unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and their sensor payloads from the cockpit of the aircraft.

The technology called UTA (UAS tactical common data link assembly) enhances pilots’ ability to view and control nearby drone assets providing intelligence, targeting information and overall situational awareness.

The software to equip the aircraft with the next-generation capability is being developed by army engineers.

Apache block III programme manager Lieutenant Colonel Dan Bailey said the recent limited user test (LUT) represented an effort to advance this technology and give pilots the ability to control the unmanned aircraft payload and flight path.

“The LUT execution is complete and the data analysis is on-going. Execution was very successful and met all the objectives for the test,” Bailey said.

“The onboard Apache block III software provides the interface and control functions through a TCDL modem and antenna assembly.

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“Utilising the Nato standard STANAG 4586, the aircraft can view and exchange images with other air and ground assets.

“The Apache block III aircraft will sustain the Apache fleet through 2040 and will add a host of new capabilities to the fleet, including an ability to climb to higher elevations such as those reached by Chinooks.”

The low-rate initial production of the new technology equipped block III Apache attack helicopters is scheduled to start in 2011.