Electronic Weapons: Pakistan Becomes A Pod Believer

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August 9, 2015: Pakistan is buying fifteen more Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pods) systems and getting upgrades (greater resolution and precision) to the 22 Sniper ATP pods they already have. Pakistan has been using these devices since 2008 when they received their first Sniper XR targeting pods. By 2010 these were upgraded to ATP standard and more were ordered to support increased demand for smart bomb attacks in the tribal territories by 76 Pakistani F-16s. This F-16 fleet has also been expanded lately. In 2014 Pakistan bought 13 older F-16A fighters from Jordan. These F-16As had recently undergone a mid-life update and have, on average, 3,000 flight hours left. While these are the best aircraft Pakistan has to confront the much larger (over 300) Indian fighters they have, since 2011 been heavily engaged in the tribal territories flying recon (with camera pods) and, more often, ground attack with smart bombs. The Sniper ATP pods cost nearly $3 million each and have annual maintenance costs of over $50,000 per year. The 200 kg (440 pound) pod hangs off a hard point, like a missile, bomb, or fuel tank.

These targeting pods have been all the rage with fighter pilots since the 1990s. The latest generation of these pods contain FLIR (video quality night vision infrared radar) and high resolution TV cameras that enable pilots flying at 6,300 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 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.

Some pod upgrades are not exported, or at least not to frenemies like Pakistan. This would include the 2014 Sniper targeting pod upgrades. This is called the SE (for Sensor Enhancement) and contains a lot of classified improvements that make it easier for pilots to exchange pod data with the ground and other aircraft. The sensor improvement apparently includes a library of known shapes (from different distances and angles) of a wide variety of vehicles and ships so that the pod can advise the pilot what difficult to distinguish shapes down there really are.

 

 


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