upgrading its 33 U.S. F-18 fighters with $600 million worth of new electronics.
The new gear includes 20 AN/ASQ-228A targeting pods and 44 AN/ASQ-228A
electronic countermeasures pods. The deal includes training, and integrating
the equipment into the Swiss fighters (whiletaking into account the way the
Swiss air force operates). Targeting pods are becoming a "must have" addition
for many European air forces. Finland is buying ten Israeli Litening targeting
pods for their F-18s as well. Even China is building its own targeting pod,
apparently based on an early version of the Litening.
The latest generation of these pods
contain FLIR (video quality night vision infrared radar) and TV cameras that
enable pilots flying at 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.
These new targeting pods, and smart
bombs, have revolutionized the way warplanes support ground troops. The
accuracy of the laser or GPS guided bombs greatly reduces friendly fire losses,
and makes the bomber much deadlier. Basically, one bomb takes out one target.
Moreover, the aircraft can stay out of range of enemy ground fire. Previously,
a fighter-bomber had to come in low and slow, to drop several dumb bombs with
much less accuracy. Often, friendly troops were hit. With the new pods, bomber
pilots not only get an excellent view of the battlefield, but automatically
pass that video to troops on the ground. All this makes the bomber much more
effective in ways no one believed possible two decades ago.