Northrop goes full-rate production of Link 16 tactical data link for sensor networking on Marine helicopters

March 25, 2022
The Link 16 military tactical sensor network enables military aircraft, ships, and ground forces to exchange their tactical picture in near-real time.

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md. – The U.S. Navy has awarded Northrop Grumman Corp. a $65 million contract to carry-out full-rate production of the Link-16 tactical datalink for the U.S. Marine Corps AH-1Z attack UH-1Y utility helicopters.

The contract from Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., calls for the Northrop Grumman Mission Systems segment in Woodland Hills, Calif., to integrate the Link 16 data link hardware across the Marine Corps AH-1Z and UH-1Y helicopter fleets.

Link 16 is a military tactical data link network used by the U.S. military and its NATO allies that enables military aircraft, ships, and ground forces to exchange their tactical picture in near-real time. Link 16 also supports the exchange of text, imagery, and digital voice messages.

Link-16 will enable the AH-1Z and UH-1Y to carry out sensor networking, and share data and communications securely with other aircraft and other users of secure military networks.

Related: Northrop Grumman to provide networking data link for helicopters

The AH-1Z Viper is a twin-engine attack helicopter based on the AH-1W SuperCobra that features a four-blade rotor system, uprated transmission, and a new target sighting system. It has upgraded avionics, weapons, and electro-optical sensors designed to find targets at long ranges and attack them with precision weapons.

The UH-1Y Venom helicopter -- also called the Super Huey -- is a twin-engined, medium-sized utility helicopter designed to replace the U.S. Marine Corps UH-1N Twin Huey light utility helicopters, first introduced in the early 1970s.

Link 16 is based on time-division multiple access (TDMA) communications technology, and is a secure, jam-resistant, high-speed digital data link that operates at RF and microwave frequencies from 960 to 1,215 MHz.

This frequency range limits information exchange directly to line-of-sight distances, although satellite communications (SATCOM) and ad-hoc protocols can pass Link 16 data over long-haul protocols such as TCP/IP using MIL-STD 3011 (JREAP) or STANAG 5602 (SIMPLE). Information typically passes at rates of 31.6, 57.6, or 115.2 kilobits per second.

Related: Navy chooses sensor datalink from L-3 Communications-West to help helicopters and warships share information

The AH-1Z and UH-1Y are part of the Marine Corps H-1 upgrades program to build new helicopters, as well as rebuilding legacy AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopters and UH-1N Twin Huey utility helicopters with state of the art designs. The program seeks to upgrade AH-1Ws to AH-1Zs, and UH-1Ns to UH-1Ys.

The AH-1Z can carry a payload of 5,764 pounds, can fly as fast as 222 knots, has a range of 370 nautical miles, and can fly as high as 20,000 feet. It has a crew of two, and carries a 20-millimeter Gatling gun, and can fire 70-millimeter Hydra rockets, AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles.

The UH-1Y can carry a payload of 6,660 pounds -- including as many as 10 crashworthy passenger seats and six litters or equivalent cargo. It has a range of 260 nautical miles, and can fly as high as 20,000 feet. It can fly with one or two pilots, has two external stations for 70-millimeter Hydra 70 or APKWS II rockets, and has two pintle mounts for M240D machine guns or Gatling guns.

Related: Sikorsky explores linking next-gen helicopters to F-35

“As lead technology integrator for H-1 avionics, we are modernizing electronic systems across the fleet through an open-systems architecture approach,” says Lindsay McEwen, vice president of navigation, targeting, and survivability at Northrop Grumman. “Link-16 full rate production is the starting point.”

Northrop Grumman’s mission systems solution for the H-1 fleet is trusted and combat-proven, with more than 450,000 total flight hours, Northrop Grumman officials say.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman Mission Systems online at, or U.S. Naval Air Systems Command at

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