Longbow Limited Liability, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, has completed delivery of the first production Unmanned Aerial Systems Tactical Common Data Link Assembly (UTA) to the US Army.

The delivery follows completion of a six-year design and development phase by the company, and marks commencement of low-rate initial production (LRIP) to field the UTA on Block III Apaches in 2012.

Longbow president and director Mike Taylor said the UTA provides Apache aircrews with increased situational awareness and net-centric interoperability, significantly reducing sensor-to-shooter timelines.

The Block III UTA will be integrated onto Boeing AH-64D Apache Block III helicopters to offer a two-way, high-bandwidth data link, which helps aircrew to control an Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ (UAS) flight path, sensors and lasers at longer ranges and also provides high-quality UAS imagery on multifunctional displays.

The UTA enables up to Level 4 control of a UAS equipped with a tactical common data link (TCDL) and can also communicate with TCDL ground stations to share UAS or on-board Arrowhead Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M-TADS/PNVS) system day/night vision imagery with ground forces.

The AH-64 Apache is a four-blade, twin-engine army attack helicopter armed with 16 Hellfire missiles and integrated sensors, networking and digital communications to provide situational awareness for ground commanders.

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The helicopter has been deployed by the US Army in Afghanistan as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has also supported low-intensity and peacekeeping operations worldwide.

Longbow has recently been awarded a $181m contract for the supply of Block III Longbow fire control radar (FCR) units, 18 radar electronic units (REU) as well as 14 UTA systems and spares to equip the Block III Apache fleet.