Electronic Weapons: Bahrain Goes To Ground Attack Mode

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July 18, 2017: Bahrain has ordered Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pods) systems for its 19 F-16 fighters. Bahrain has been using F-16s since 1990 and had bought three LANTIRN targeting pods in 1996 to provide some JDAM (GPS) capability to their F-16s, which were mainly used for air defense. The Sniper pods are a more advanced design first introduced in 2005 and regularly upgraded since then. 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. Bahrain is also purchasing additional maintenance and training services for its Sniper ATPs. The U.S. Air Force is the largest user of the American made Sniper but these targeting pods are exported to 22 foreign customers. Bahrain is in a hurry to get its Sniper pods and they are to be delivered in early 2018. The new F-35 fighter has a Sniper pod (or at least the components of the pod) built into the F-35 in order to maintain stealth ability (items hanging off the wings create a stronger radar signal).

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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