Electronic Weapons: A Pod That Shares


February 24, 2008: The U.S. Air Force has developed a two-way video data link for its Sniper targeting pod. This will enable troops on the ground to see what the pilot is seeing, and mark items for the pilot in real time. This is particularly critical for situations where the ground level view is more accurate, and this eliminates any confusion over what the troops want a smart bomb to hit. This minimizes the risk of friendly fire losses (including innocent civilians), and makes it more certain that the enemy will be hit when the ground troops expect it. This is critical because the troops like to be on a bombed target as quickly as possible, to deal with any enemy survivors, and to capture any documents before those survivors can destroy them.

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. With the two way communication, the pilots can remain aware of how the friendly troops are moving around there.

These new targeting pods, and smart bombs, have revolutionized the way warplanes support ground troops. The accuracy of the laser or GPS guided bombs greatly reduces friendly fire losses, and makes the bomber much deadlier. Basically, one bomb takes out one target. Previously, a fighter-bomber had to come in low and slow, to drop several dumb bombs with much less accuracy. Often, friendly troops were hit. The new targeting pods make the bomber much more effective, in ways no one believed possible two decades ago.

There are other benefits as well. For example, the number of IEDs spotted by Predators, or F-16 targeting pods is very low. The army has been having much more success with specialized photo-recon aircraft (that take pictures of the exact same area, a few hours later, so that any recent digging or bomb placing will be obvious.) With these two way data links, the targeting pods can be linked to the army catalog of ground images.

The air force will being introducing the two-way data links later this year. The Sniper pods are currently used on the F-15E, F-16, F-18, A-10, B-1, and Harrier.




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