Electronic Weapons: September 15, 2000

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The US Air Force has begun using Litening-II targeting pods on its F-16s; these have been in service with eight other air forces for as long as three years. Litening-II includes a forward looking infrared charged-couple device television camera with zoom capability, a laser spot tracker, and a laser designator. F-16s equipped with these pods have become the most effective flying over Iraq and the commanders on the scene are assigning more and more critical missions to them. The Iraqis had taken to hiding their anti-aircraft guns and mobile Roland missiles in orchards. The regularly spaced trees break up the infrared signatures, and the anti-aircraft vehicles are very hard to spot. Litening-II provides a pilot with the ability to scan at a wide angle for orchards and then zoom in to literally look between each pair of trees. (To be fair, the Iraqis have helped the Air Force find their guns by firing at aircraft which are well out of range.) Once an anti-aircraft vehicle is spotted, the pilot locks on the laser designator and sends a laser-guided bomb on its way. Camera footage taken through the pods has shown Iraqi gunners running at full speed away from their vehicles, knowing that a bomb will arrive within seconds of the time they open fire. Lately, the Air Force has been pairing F-16s equipped with Litening-II with those equipped with LANTIRN targeting pods. Depending on where and how the target is hidden, one plane can find it and help the other lock on its laser and drop a bomb. Because the Litening-II pods are carried on Air Force Reserve planes, these Reserve units have been catapulted to the top of the bomber pecking order.--Stephen V Cole

 


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