May 17, 2007:
The U.S. is allowing the sale of
eighteen Sniper XR targeting pods to Pakistan, to equip some of the 30 F-16D
fighters Pakistan has just bought. Delivery will begin next year. 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 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.
Pakistan apparently plans to use these pods for
counter-terrorism missions, where a few F-16s could provide emergency
assistance for widely dispersed troops out hunting tribal rebels and
terrorists. The F-16 with the pod could see clearly what is happening on the
ground, and, if needed, drop a smart bomb precisely. Pakistan is also getting
500 JDAMs with its new F-16Ds.
On the down side, the Pakistani military is full of
Islamic conservatives, some of whom communicate with Islamic terrorist groups.
This makes it likely that the precise capabilities of the pods, and smart
bombs, will make their way to Islamic terrorists. This will make it possible to
develop more effective countermeasures. We must also not forget that, when
Pakistan got their first F-16s in the 1980s, they sold one to China.