The US Army has moved a step closer to fielding an important advance in situational awareness for its Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopter crews, following a recent flight test activity also involving a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned air vehicle.

Using the unmanned aerial systems tactical common data link assembly (UTA) developed by Lockheed Martin/Northrop Grumman joint venture Longbow LLC, the flight for the first time saw an Apache crew control the flight path and payload of the MQ-1C.

Integrated with the Block III Apache’s mission computer, the two-way, high-bandwidth data link enables Apache crews to more effectively manage the real-time video feed received on their displays.

“The test programme proved the design and provided valuable operational understanding to the Apache crew,” the Longbow venture said in a statement. The test activity was a “100% success”, it added.

The army will start fielding the Longbow UTA capability with its Block III Apaches from next year.