is touting an export-friendly manned-unmanned teaming capability at the Farnborough air show, hoping to interest the U.K. as it ponders a midlife update for its / WAH-64D Apache AH.1s.
The VUIT system is based on equipment that was fitted to 48 U.S. Armyand deployed to Iraq to enable the Apaches to receive video from unmanned aircraft and send video to the ground.
While the Army has developed an integrated system for the new Block 3 Apache that allows the crew to take control of the UAV’s sensor and flight path, VUIT (video from unmanned aircraft systems for interoperability teaming) is a federated system providing an “entry-level” manned-unmanned teaming capability to receive and relay video, says Zak Tomczak, director of international business development for fire-control systems at Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control.
“We are not talking advanced manned-unmanned teaming, but a basic capability to bring video and map data from the UAV into the helicopter, and for the helicopter to send data to the ground,” he says.
VUIT has been cleared for export to all operators of the Apache, and potentially other aircraft as well as ground vehicles, Tomczak says. The integrated system on the Block 3 Apache is not yet exportable.
Key for the U.K. as it considers a capability sustainment program (CSP) for the Apache AH.1 could be that VUIT can be carried in addition to the Longbow fire-control radar, which is mounted on a mast above the main rotor.
In the Apache Block 3 system, the UTA (unmanned aerial systems tactical common data link assembly) replaces the mast-mounted antenna, requiring operators to equip their Apaches for either radar or manned-unmanned teaming operations.
But where UTA has a directional Ku-band antenna, VUIT has a simpler and smaller omnidirectional antenna that can be installed in the mast-mounted assembly alongside the Longbow radar antenna, Tomczak says.
U.K. Apaches always fly with the radar fitted, but for operators of AH-64s without the radar the VUIT antenna can be installed elsewhere on the helicopter, he says. And as VUIT is a federated system, “it can be installed without touching the Apache software.”
Cued by the Longbow radar’s radio-frequency interferometer, VUIT will acquire the UAV’s downlink, allowing the Apache pilot to bring up the video and map data on the cockpit displays. “He can use it himself for targeting or send it down to the ground,” he says.
“It’s a relatively simple system, and not that expensive,” Tomczak says, adding: “VUIT is a candidate for CSP,” which is now in the assessment phase.