Procurement: The Targeting Pod Revolution Spreads

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December 26, 2007: Switzerland is 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.

 


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