The U.S. Air Force is upgrading its Sniper XTP targeting pods, at a cost of about $22,000 each. The upgrade will improve the speed and reliability of the Sniper transferring video images to other aircraft and ground troops. Most ground units are equipped with ROVER receivers for this purpose. The latest model is hand held and it allows the user to see video from aircraft overhead. This has greatly increased the speed at which aircraft can deliver bombs, or low level cannon attacks on ground targets. This video link also greatly reduces friendly fire incidents, which have long been a major hazard for troops calling in air support.
The air force now has nearly 600 Sniper pods, which are very popular with fighter pilots. They are used on F-15, F-16, A-10 and B-1 aircraft. These pods contain FLIR (video quality night vision infrared radar) and TV cameras that enable pilots flying at 3,200 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 capabilities also enable pilots to more easily find targets themselves, and hit them with 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.
The 200 kg (440 pound) Sniper pod hangs off a hard point, like a missile, bomb or fuel tank. Nineteen years ago, the first targeting pods (the U.S. two pod LANTIRN system) were nearly ready for service. These first electronic targeting pods, that looked like a thin bomb, were hung under the wing of fighters, and contained laser designators and night vision equipment. The LANTIRN got a workout in the 1991 Gulf War, even though the system was still undergoing testing. Israel soon followed with a cheaper, more reliable and more capable Litening system. American manufacturers then brought out the Sniper XR and XTP pod. All this competition has made the pods (one pod is all that is needed now) more capable, easier to use, more reliable and cheaper. Pilots can either snag GPS coordinates for a smart bomb their aircraft is carrying, or use a laser designator, to drop bombs with extreme accuracy.