Air Weapons: Magic Eyes


October 9, 2008:  The most potent aerial weapons don't explode, they just find the target in any weather. These are the IR (infrared, or heat sensitive) cameras that are mounted in stabilized turrets and mounted on aircraft and helicopters. The FLIR (a heat sensing vidcam) provides the pilot with live black and white video of what is on the ground, and makes possible precision attacks with missiles or smart bombs. Since the early 1990s, the range and resolution of the FLIR (forward looking IR) has increased enormously. The turrets mounted on helicopters can use their FLIR to see out to 20 kilometers or more, and have 100x or more magnification. The turrets or targeting pods using this equipment also have daytime color cameras, laser rangefinders and laser designators. The airborne units are stabilized, so that the image the pilot sees via the FLIR or vidcam stays steady, even though the aircraft might be bouncing around.

Since the 1990s, the resolution of FLIR has increased to the point where users can identify people and vehicles 10-20 kilometers away, and put a laser designator on something up to ten kilometers away (which laser smart bombs home in on.) There are also version of these turrets for use on ships and trucks (like humvees). That latter were first used during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and proved very useful.

The helicopter turrets cost about $900,000. The targeting pod versions for fighters cost a bit more, and the ship and vehicle versions, a bit less. These sensors have radically changed the way helicopters and warplanes operate. With these "magic eyes", pilots find themselves working closely with the ground troops to find targets. There has never been this much cooperation between ground troops and combat pilots.


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