November 23, 2011: One of the largest air campaigns waged in the last decade has gotten little publicity. The Pakistan Air Force has flown over 5,500 combat sorties over the tribal territories (mainly Waziristan and points north) in the last three years. This was all in support of a major offensive against the Pakistani Taliban, which had organized a tribal rebellion against Pakistan, and was carrying out terror attacks throughout the country as well. Eventually, over 100,000 ground troops were involved, and they depended on the air force for reconnaissance of the thinly populated tribal areas, as well as prompt and accurate bombing support.
For the first year of this campaign, Pakistan admitted that it was often relying on Google Earth for attack planning. Then the air force obtained ten DB-110 reconnaissance pods. These devices, which looked like a large, streamlined bomb, use digital cameras. These are superior to film cameras because no film development is required, and digital images are more easily analyzed using software, rather than depending mostly on human photo interpreters. The infrared sensor records everything in the aircraft's flight path, horizon-to-horizon. The pod records many gigabytes of data to onboard storage devices, and can also transmit less detailed data immediately to a ground station. In the last two years, F-16s carrying DB-110 pods have flown over 500 missions, and been very successful in spotting Taliban camps and units of Taliban themselves.
Some 11,000 bombs were dropped on these targets. Since 80 percent of these were smart bombs, nearly 5,000 targets were destroyed. DB-110 equipped F-16s were often used to check to see what damage was done by these bomb attacks. A C-130 was also equipped with a reconnaissance sensor (a day/night vidcam) that was able to track Taliban on the ground day and night, and made it possible for the army to crush the Taliban in most of the tribal territories.
Pakistan also received eighteen Sniper XR targeting pods in 2008. These pods are all the rage with fighter pilots. The latest generation of these pods contain FLIR (video quality night vision infrared radar) and high resolution TV cameras that enable pilots flying at 6,300 meters (20,000 feet) to clearly make out what is going on down there. The pods also contain laser designators for laser guided bombs, and laser range finders that enable pilots to get coordinates for JDAM (GPS guided) bombs. Safely outside the range of most anti-aircraft fire (five kilometers up, and up to fifty kilometers away), pilots can literally see the progress of ground fighting, and have even been acting as aerial observers for ground forces. These new capabilities also enable pilots to more easily find targets themselves, and hit them with highly accurate laser guided or JDAM bombs. While bombers still get target information from ground controllers for close (to friendly troops) air support, they can now go searching on their own, in areas where there are no friendly ground troops.