Electronic Weapons: Pods For Patience

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July 9, 2012: Denmark is buying LITENING targeting pods for its F-16s. These cost nearly $3 million each and have annual maintenance costs of over $50,000 per year. The pods, packed with electronics and sensors, are very popular with fighter pilots, mainly because they contain FLIR (video quality night vision infrared radar) and TV cameras that enable pilots flying at 6,200 meters (20,000 feet) to clearly make out what is going on down on the ground. 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) pod hangs off a hard point, like a missile, bomb, or fuel tank. Twenty-one years ago the first targeting pods (the U.S. two pod LANTIRN system) were nearly ready for service. These first electronic targeting pods, which looked like thin bombs, 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. An American manufacturer 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.

Two years ago Denmark stopped training new jet fighter pilots. This came about because Denmark had decided to cut its force of jet fighters from 48 F-16s to 30. The remaining F-16s will be refurbished so that they can continue to operate for the rest of the decade. Denmark plans to eventually replace their F-16s with F-35s. Because the F-35 is a much more capable aircraft and Denmark has so few potential aggressors in the neighborhood, there will be fewer F-35s bought to replace the F-16 force. While the F-35 costs more than the F-16, having fewer of them also saves money on pilots. A fighter pilot takes five years, and several million dollars, to train.

 

 

 


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