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Monday, April 15, 2013

Lockheed Martin Offers VUIT Video Networking for UK’s Apache Upgrades

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief

With the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) currently focused on how it is going to manage the capability sustainment program of its Apache Longbow attack helicopters, Lockheed Martin is keen to add its VUIT video networking technology to the potential package of improvements.

U.S. Army Apache D models have operated in Iraq and Afghanistan with VUIT, which allows Apaches to receive video feeds from unmanned aircraft (UAS) and transmit them to ground forces. The UK military currently operates the Watchkeeper WK450 (Army) and the Reaper (RAF), as well as smaller UAS systems.

The export version of Lockheed Martin’s VUIT could be incorporated into the Westland WAH-64D Longbow Apaches, stated Michael Taylor, Lockheed’s program director. “There is space within the Fire Control Radar dome for the VUIT antenna and modem, with a small keypad added into the cockpit and another downlink aerial on the bottom of the airframe.

Taylor stated that the initial gate for the MoD’s decision would fall between May and July this year, with the main gate falling around September. This would allow the British Apaches to receive and retransmit video data from UAS.

Said Taylor: “The system could have been used when the UK Apache’s were operating in the maritime environment from HMS Ocean during Operation Ellamy (the coalition operations against the forces of Col. Gadaffi in Libya). They could have had target situational awareness being fed to them as they were leaving the carrier so that they were tactically up to date as they arrived over the shore to begin their mission.”

In another development, Lockheed Martin is also updating its modernized target acquisition designation sight (M-TADS). Having previously improved its night sensor, current work will introduce color and low-light sensitivity into the day picture and will match the FLIR field of view (before the magnification was different when switching between day and night sensors).

The upgraded laser rangefinder is already in production while the MDSA is fully funded, according to a Lockheed Martin spokesperson. Qualification of this will begin in July 2013 with flight tests by the end of the year. The goal will be to have the MDSA installed into Apache E airframes from 2016 as a Lot 6 insertion.

In February 2013 Lockheed Martin received a $161.7-million contract from the U.S. Army to continue its M-TADS/PVNS (pilot night vision sensor) upgrade program.

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