In discussions I had last year with the Marines working in Headquarters Marine Corps, they indicated that the Viper/Venom family of helicopters was in the process of adding networking capabilities to the aircraft which would expand its contributions to the combat force.
Now that effort is closer to operational reality as it has been announced that the first tests have been completed with a clear roadmap for the operational force starting next year.
Recently, I had a chance to discuss this development with Lt. General (Retired) George Trautman, the former Deputy Commandant of Aviation, who when I first met him was working the effort to get the Osprey in the combat force in 2007.
Question: Clearly, adding Link 16 is not simply a platform upgrade. It is about providing new capabilities organically to the Viper/Venom family but also allowing unique capabilities of the Viper to be available to the wider joint force.
How do envisage this addition to the family?
Trautman: “The benefit to the force of digital connectivity or digital interoperability is really exponential.
“It’s not linear.
“If you’re talking about F-35, V-22, and then the two 83% identical H-1 aircraft, all as a package, you’re talking about a very powerful combination of capabilities whose sum is greater than its parts.
“And that’s always been the vision going back to over a decade inside the Marine Corps.
“This is a major step forward in the Marine Corps’ ability to not only interact with itself, but also to interact with the combined and joint force, in particular Naval Forces, in the context of operating from the sea base and the ability to use systems like the TPS-80 G/ATR radar.”
Question: The Viper can carry significant air-to-air or air-to-surface strike capabilities and has an advanced set of sensors onboard. Isn’t one way to think about the addition of Link-16 to Viper is now these capabilities are available to the wider force?
Trautman: “The ability to move quickly in response to any kind of crisis all the way from a low-end crisis up to a near peer competitor is the ability to get there quickly, but then be oriented immediately upon arrival.
“Capabilities like Link-16 give the Viper that opportunity in a way that it didn’t have before.
“And the Lockheed target sight system on Viper is the best electrical-optical sensor available anywhere. The Viper’s ability to share what it sees throughout the battlespace is greatly enabled by this new network capability.”
He concluded: “Incorporating Link-16 onto the AH-1Z helicopter will provide the ability to fully integrate Viper with the fifth-generation force.
“Pilots will be able to use the aircraft’s state-of-the art sensors to gather information; manage that information using onboard digital architecture; and then share the information digitally using Link-16.
“In the future, Vipers will enjoy much better situational awareness when operating within the joint battlespace.
“Exceptional tactical integration and information sharing with the F-35 will be achieved through the combined synergy of the Viper’s Target Sight System and integrated Full Motion Video when employing the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile and the Joint Air-to-Ground JAGM missile.
“This new level of connectivity is going to change the way we operate as a Joint Force.”