The Navy is not certain if it will stay on target to integrate Link-16 into the Northrop Grumman [NOC] MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter fleet by fiscal year 2023 due to budgetary issues, an official said Tuesday.

“We have a little bit of budgetary uncertainty for the Link-16, so I am not sure that we are going to be able to meet the target, but the intended value of Link-16 would be to share the data of all the sensors that the Fire Scout get, so it fits in when we’re able to complete that developmental work,” Capt. Eric Soderberg,  program manager for Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), said during a media call on Jan. 25.

Link-16 is a tactical data link network used to exchange information in near-real time.

In the FY ‘22 presidential budget request, the Navy said Link-16 capability is currently being integrated to the MQ-8C and is expected to be released across the fleet during fiscal year 2023.

He underscored adding the Link-16 “would allow the Fire Scout to share its targeting data and rather than have that go just to the controlling ship, which is currently how the system operates, it would disperse it among the entire Link-16 network and facilitate easier targeting from multiple platforms.”

These statements came after the Navy recently announced the MQ-8C deployed for the first time aboard the Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ship USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) in December (Defense Daily, Jan. 24).

Soderberg also noted how the network can be used to increase weapons capabilities. The MQ-8C is currently tasked to “find and fix targets at a range greater than the Navy ships could do otherwise, limited by the radar horizon.”

The Defense Department has expressed some interest in using the Fire Scout to support using the Naval Strike Missile.

“So I suppose that if that system is deployed, that will lead to some modifications of how the Fire Scout is used and what the [concepts of operations] are,” Soderberg said.

“Certainly, if you wanted real-time updates for a weapon like that, Link-16 would be the way to achieve that,” he added.

Soderberg also confirmed the Navy still expects to gradually complete the transition from the MQ-8B fleet to the MQ-8C models, without providing a detailed timeline.