Electronic Weapons: The Dominance Of Digital

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August 4, 2012: Iraq and Oman have become the latest nations to buy DB-110 reconnaissance pods for their jet fighters (in this case, F-16s). These pods look like a large, streamlined bomb and use digital cameras to photograph large areas in high resolution. These are superior to film cameras because no film development is required and digital images are more easily analyzed using software, rather than depending mostly on human photo interpreters. The infrared (heat) sensor can record everything in the aircraft's flight path, horizon-to-horizon. The pod records many gigabytes of data to onboard storage devices and can also transmit less detailed data immediately to a ground station. The pilot can also see what the pod sees, using one of the cockpit displays. Although similar to targeting pods, the recon pods are designed to also take high resolution pictures of large swaths of terrain below, even as the aircraft moves along at 15 kilometers a minute.

Over a dozen nations have bought DB-110s since they entered service five years ago and the pod has been very successful in battlefield situations. Pakistani F-16s carrying DB-110 pods have flown nearly a thousand 500 missions and been very effective at spotting Taliban camps and units of Taliban themselves. DB-110 equipped F-16s were often used to check to see what damage was done by recent smart bomb attacks.

The DB-110 has been used on a wide variety of American and European warplanes. The pods cost over $6 million each (including some support and training service and equipment).

Older recon pods facing retirement are usually replaced by digital pods. Many existing film pods have had some, or all, of their film cameras replaced by smaller, lighter, and more powerful digital ones.

 


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