Air Weapons: Heavy Bombers Get Targeting Pods


January16, 2007: The U.S. Air Force is installing Sniper XR targeting pods on some of its B-1B bombers. The latest generation of these pods contain FLIR (video quality night vision infrared radar) and 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. For Special Forces teams, the new pods are very useful, for the teams often operate deep in hostile territory, and they can use the bombers overhead to hit designated targets, but also ask the warplanes to look elsewhere in the vicinity, in areas the Special Forces troops cannot see, but where they suspect enemy troops are.

The B-1B is delivering most of the smart bombs, because it can carry 24 smart bombs (or up to 144 of the streamlined, 250 pound SDB, or Small Diameter Bomb), and can stay in the air for eight hours, or more, over a combat zone. The troops, however, really like the fighter-bombers (F-16/15/18) carrying the targeting pods, because the pilots can find targets by themselves or, more importantly, work with the ground troops to do so. What makes the B-1B better suited for this is that it has a four man crew. In theory, the B-1B could operate three targeting pods (the copilot, offensive systems officer and defensive systems officer being so occupied.) But for starters, one pod will be installed, and the offensive systems officer and defensive systems officer can fight over who will use it.


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