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[12.0] Targeting Pods

v1.5.0 / chapter 12 of 13 / 01 nov 04 / greg goebel / public domain

* Smart weapons often require specialized targeting systems, and so it is useful to include them in this document. This chapter provides a survey of targeting pods.



* With the introduction of laser guided bombs, some means were also required to guide them, and this led to the first generation of LGB targeting pods. In its simplest possible configuration, such a pod was fitted with a turret containing a TV boresighted with a laser, with the rest of the pod providing support systems. The pod was usually carried by a two-seat strike aircraft, with the weapons system officer (WSO) in the back seat viewing the target image provided by the pod, and using a joystick or similar hand controller to keep the target lined up in the display crosshairs.

For various reasons, some first-generation targeting pods could not be used to designate a target for the aircraft carrying the pod. This meant that the aircraft with the pod had to "buddy designate" for aircraft without the pod but carrying LGBs. Of course, pods were quickly improved to allow an aircraft to "self-designate" or "auto-designate" its own LGBs. Other refinements were introduced. The camera could be designed to provide either a wide field of view (FOV) to help find a target, or a narrow FOV for precise targeting.

One of the problems with the simple targeting pod described above is that once the strike aircraft has dropped its LGB and is departing the target area, the tracking movement of the pod turret may turn the target image upside down, making it confusing for the WSO to keep the crosshairs on target. A "horizon-natural" system automatically flipped the image over if it became inverted. Another useful item was a recorder to store video and other data for "post strike" intelligence.

Of course, TV is limited to daylight and fair weather. Light-intensifying TV cameras could be used to overcome darkness, but the more favored solution was to use a "forward looking infrared (FLIR)" imager, which could be used night or day, and also to a degree in murky weather. FLIR imagery can be confusing, since its images show the heat patterns from a target, not the patterns of reflected light that a camera can pick up, and so FLIR displays can generally be switched to display a positive or negative image in hopes that the WSO can make more sense of one than the other. Since fitting both FLIR and a TV camera in a pod was difficult for a time, FLIR generally displaced TV cameras in "second-generation" targeting pods.

FLIRs were also used in "navigation pods", which used a wide-angle FLIR that was fixed to stare forward to show the pilot the terrain ahead. There were also "laser spot tracker" pods that allowed an aircraft to spot a target illuminated by a laser target designator carried by ground troops or other aircraft, making the aircraft something like a "smart", reusable LGB itself. The laser spot tracker was often ganged with a "laser rangefinder".

* The current "third generation" of targeting pods consolidates many of the functions provided by various different earlier pods. A modern targeting pod might contain the following elements:

Although air forces focused on low-level strike for decades, improved air defenses have now made this dangerous. Modern targeting pods are designed to pinpoint targets from long range, using high-magnification FLIRs or CCD cameras on stabilized mounts to keep the target in the crosshairs. Another feature being implemented in modern targeting pods is GPS-INS capability, with the WSO able to download the GPS coordinates of a target obtained by the pod into a weapon before launch.

* Improvements in radar miniaturization have led to a new class of targeting pod carrying a "synthetic aperture radar (SAR)". A SAR is a type of imaging radar that uses the motion of the carrier aircraft to give the effect of a larger antenna, improving the resolution of the radar image. SAR can be used day or night, in any weather, to pinpoint targets.

SAR pods are being built and evaluated now, but the latest generation of fighter multimode radars are being designed to have SAR capabilities as just another mode, eliminating the need for a separate pod. In fact, the latest generation of strike aircraft are being designed with integral targeting systems, with all required sensors and target marking systems built into the machine. However, it seems likely that targeting pods will be around for a long time for use with older or less specialized aircraft.



* As mentioned briefly in an earlier chapter, the ancestor of laser modern laser targeting pods was the "AN/AVQ-9/9A Paveway Airborne Laser Designator" (ALD)", which was developed by Martin Marietta and Texas Instruments for the the early Paveway LGBs.

ALD was not a pod. It was clipped inside the cockpit of an F-4 Phantom, and the WSO used a telescopic sight ganged to a laser to perform target designation. The fact that the ALD had to be sighted out of one side of the F-4 made it difficult or impossible for an ALD-equipped Phantom to launch an LGB and designate it as well, so the ALD was strictly used for "buddy" designating for other strike aircraft. The scheme worked well in any case, and laser designation became known as "Zotting", after the anteater named "Zot" in the BC comic strip who nailed ants with his long and lethally accurate tongue.

Air Force veterans say that a C-119 "Boxcar" cargo transport was also configured as a flying target designator platform, but the literature says little about it and it may have been an early operational test system.

* ALD led to the first laser-designation targeting pod, the Ford Aerospace "AN/AVG-10 Pave Knife", which was a 550 kilogram (1,200 pound) banana-shaped pod that could be carried on an F-4 or A-6 Intruder strike aircraft. The weapons operator watched the image using a small Sony TV fitted into the cockpit, and steered the TV camera and laser with a hand controller. The pod could be given initial target lock through the strike aircraft's gunsight. Pave Knife was a great improvement over ALD, in particular providing a self-designation capability.

A laser pod was also developed for the Rockwell OV-10A Bronco in the early 1970s, with the laser integrated into an electronics system named "Pave Spot" and the entire aircraft designated "Pave Nail".

* The US Navy also got into the targeting pod business, though through a more indirect path. In 1967, they introduced into combat a sensor system designated "Trails-Roads Interdiction Multisensor (TRIM)". TRIM was intended to observe enemy movements on the ground in night or bad weather, and originally carried only low-light TV and FLIR.

TRIM was originally fitted to Lockheed AP-2H Neptune aircraft and later A-6 Intruders, where it was integrated with the A-6's digital navigation-attack system. In 1972, TRIM was modified with an updated FLIR, and the TV system was replaced with a laser designator. The TRIM target designator was used for buddy LGB designation. For reasons that are unclear, it could could not be used for self-designation.

* Several strike aircraft of this era were also fitted with laser spot trackers. For example, the Harrier GR.3 "jump jet" was fitted with an extended "Snoopy nose" that carried a Ferranti "Laser Ranger & Marked Target Seeker (LRMTS)", which as its name implied also carried a laser rangefinder. The Ferranti LRMTS was also fitted to some versions of the Swedish SAAB 35 Draken fighter supplied to Denmark.

The USAF A-10 Warthog close-support aircraft is also fitted with a laser spot tracker in the form of its "Pave Penny" pod, which is mounted on a pylon below the cockpit. The Pave Penny pod does not have a laser rangefinding capability.



* One of the first targeting pods in widespread use was the Westinghouse "AN/ASQ-153 Pave Spike". The US obtained 156 of them for their F-4 Phantoms between 1974 and 1979. Pave Spike was a great improvement over Pave Knife, since it was smaller and lighter, and introduced the horizon natural capability. Pave Spike's laser also could be used for rangefinding, feeding target coordinates into the F-4's weapons control computers for more precise targeting of "dumb" bombs.

A handful of simplified versions of Pave Spike, designated "AN/AVQ-23E", were provided to the British Royal Air Force for their Buccaneer strike aircraft. They would prove their worth for the RAF in the Gulf War, "spiking" laser guided bombs into targets with extreme accuracy.

* Pave Knife led to another large laser targeting pod, the "AN/AVQ-26 Pave Tack", which included a laser and FLIR, plus a videotape recorder for post-strike damage intelligence. Pave Tack was originally used on F-4 Phantoms and then carried by the FB-111 Aardvark.

Pave Tack was first used by the FB-111s during the airstrikes against Libya in 1986, OPERATION EL DORADO CANYON, and was later used with very great success by FB-111s during the Gulf War for "tank plinking".

* The US Navy also improved its laser designation systems. By 1978, TRIM had led to a second-generation system fitted to Grumman A-6E Intruder carrier-based strike aircraft, with the designation "AN/AAS-33 Target Recognition and Attack Multisensor (TRAM)".

TRAM was not a pod. It was built into the A-6E, and was only visible as a small "thimble" turret under the nose of the aircraft that contained a FLIR and laser. TRAM was integrated into the A-6E's weapons control system and could also be used as a laser rangefinder for delivery of "dumb" bombs. Like Pave Tack, it included a videotape recorder.

TRAM was first used by A-6Es participating in OPERATION EL DORADO CANYON, and also saw extensive use in the Gulf War. In both cases, the A-6Es were mostly armed with "dumb" bombs and used TRAM as a rangefinding aid, with considerable success.

* A FLIR-laser designator turret very similar to TRAM was built into the Rockwell OV-10D Bronco "Night Observation Gun Ship (NOGS)", with a new and improved turret implemented for the next generation OV-10D+.

* The Lockheed-Martin F-117 Nighthawk stealth strike fighter has this functionality built into it from the ground up, with the system designated "Infra-Red Acquisition & Designation System (IRADS)". IRADS consists of a a laser turret under the nose and a FLIR on top of the nose. Both devices are hidden in wells that are covered by a screen to keep the aircraft "stealthy".

* Traditionally, Soviet-Russian aircraft have featured built-in targeting systems, such as the "Klyon PS" carried by some variants of the Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter, Su-25 Frog, and Mikoyan MiG-27. This is a very unusual target designator by Western standards, since the laser isn't mounted in a turret and the pilot doesn't have either a TV display or a hand controller. It was so different, in fact, that there was a tendency at first to believe that it was a laser rangefinder or spot tracker and that reports that it was a target designator were in error. It simply didn't seem to have any of the pieces.

The laser shines through a forward window and has a limited range of travel, 12 degrees to either side, 6 degrees up and 30 degrees down. The pilot lines up the target initially in his sight, and once the is locked the laser stays locked automatically on the target under control of the aircraft's flight navigation systems.

The Klyon PS would seem to have some disadvantages. The pilot can't turn completely away from the target after release, leaving the aircraft more exposed to ground fire than an aircraft with a targeting pod. In addition, although the scheme would clearly be workable for a laser-guided missile, it is unclear how effective it would be for guiding laser-guided bombs, which being unpowered tend to lag the release aircraft. It could certainly be used to buddy-designate an LGB for another aircraft.

The Klyon PS is actually reported to be an effective targeting system, and the primary reason for this scheme was apparently less any technical obstacle than a desire for operational simplicity. It is uncomplicated to use, an important consideration in the single-seat daylight strike aircraft it is fitted to. A pilot would be hard-pressed to maneuver an aircraft, while keeping a target lined up in the crosshairs of a display using a joystick while doing so.

The F-117 Nighthawk can do this trick, but that aircraft is designed to make straight-in attacks at night, when it is almost completely invisible in most respects and has little need for evasive maneuvers, with the machine on autopilot while the pilot guides the bomb.

It is unlikely that mounting a TV camera and a laser in a turret was any great technical challenge to Soviet engineers, and apparently an external targeting pod was developed in the 1970s. It was followed by a relatively sophisticated built-in target designator, the "Kayra", that has been used on two-seat aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-24M and Su-27K Flanker. The Russians have more recently introduced a new targeting pod for the Su-27, named the "UOMP Sapsan", with a FLIR and laser designator.



* Probably the best-known targeting pod, or rather targeting pod system, is the Martin-Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) "Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting, Infrared, for Night (LANTIRN)". LANTIRN is actually a pair of pods:

LANTIRN is carried by the F-15E Strike Eagle and the F-16C/D Viper. It was first used in the Gulf War in an operational test capacity. It is in service with at least ten nations.

* LANTIRN has now been adapted to the F-14D "Bombcat" strike fighter. The Bombcat only carries the targeting pod, but the pod has been updated with a GPS-INS navigation system.

Lockheed Martin is also providing LANTIRN upgrades that add technology developed for their next-generation "Sniper" pod, discussed in the next section, and more specialized kit, under the designation of "Enhanced LANTIRN" or "LANTIRN 2000". The updates are tailored to customer need.

The Danish Air Force has awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to update Danish LANTIRNs with the CCD camera, high altitude laser target designator and rangefinder, and the laser spot tracker from the Sniper. The Netherlands Air Force has obtained 20 LANTIRNs with the CCD camera and high-altitude laser designator and rangefinder.

The US Navy is updating the laser target designators of their existing LANTIRN pods, and the Air Force is likely to follow, since they have a replacement part supply problem with their existing lasers. The USAF is planning to update the LANTIRN targeting pod with a radiometer sensor and a digital recording system to provide post-strike damage intelligence. The radiometer sensor, which will take measurements in two infrared bands, is essentially a "light meter" that will help determine the effectiveness of weapons impact on a target.

* The US Navy fielded a somewhat confusing set of pods for their F/A-18C/D fighters in the 1980s. The McDonnell Douglas "AN/ASQ-173" carried a laser spot tracker, apparently like that used in the A-10's Pave Penny pod, and a strike camera, while the Hughes "AN/AAR-50" pod provided a navigation FLIR.

The most sophisticated pod was the "AN/AAS-38 Nite Hawk", where "Nite" stood for "Navigation IR Targeting Equipment". The initial AN/AAS-38 included a targeting FLIR with 4x magnification, plus a laser rangefinder. The "AN/AAS-38A" added a laser target designator, and the "AN/AAS-38B" added a laser spot tracker, eliminating the need for the AN/ASQ-173 pod.



* As mentioned above, in the mid-1990s, Lockheed Martin developed a targeting pod named "Sniper" as a follow-on to LANTIRN. Sniper includes a set of updated and new electronic systems:

At 175 kilograms (387 pounds), Sniper is smaller than the 257 kilogram (567 pound) LANTIRN AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod. Sniper has a distinctive wedge-shaped nose with a synthetic sapphire window assembly. The wedge shape provides better aerodynamics when mounted near a fighter's engine inlet, and is less observable to radar. The sapphire windows are much more resistant to scratching or cracking, capable of surviving intact when struck by a rock at a few hundred KPH. Sapphire is also highly transparent in the visible and infrared light ranges.

Sniper has a modular design with half the parts count of the AN/AAQ-14. It is designed to be easily maintained, does not require specialized tools for disassembly, and has a "self boresighting" system to ensure alignment of the targeting laser and the sensor systems.

Sniper is being sold on the export market under the name "Pantera". Sniper subsystems are also being rearranged and incorporated into the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as well as in the "AN/AAQ-30 Hawkeye Target Sight System (TSS)" for the US Marines' AH-1Z Zulu Cobra helicopter gunship.

* Rafael of Israel has developed a targeting pod known as "Litening", beginning work on the program in the mid-1980s and introducing the pod in 1993. The Litening pod is sold by Northrop Grumman in the US.

The Litening II, which initially entered service with Israel in 1997, is a compact unit, with a length of 2.21 meters (7 feet 4 inches), a diameter of 40.6 centimeters (3 feet 5 inches), and a weight of 200 kilograms (440 pounds). It includes:

The new "Litening ER (Extended Range)" variant is apparently similar to the Litening II, except for a FLIR with higher resolution. A newer version designated the "Litening AT (Advanced Targeting)" that will provide targeting for GPS-guided weapons is in development. Rafael has mentioned that they are also developing an emitter-location system for the Litening that will allow it to target GPS jammers for destruction.

Foreign customer for the Litening include:

Sweden has also evaluated the Litening II for the SAAB 39 Gripen fighter and selected it as the standard pod for export Gripens. Chile is believed to have obtained the pod for its Northrop F-5s.

US Litening pods have seen combat action. USAF Reserve pilots used the pod, which is mounted under the right side of the F-16's engine inlet, to locate and attack Iraqi air-defense elements during actions over Iraq in May and June 2000. The pod also served during the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001:2002.

The Litening II proved more useful for daylight missions than the older LANTIRN pod, which does not have an optical imager. F-16 pilots using Litening II pods could search an area with the wide-field imager, and then zoom in on a target with the narrow-field imager. The Reserve found the new pods extremely reliable in field operations, with about twice the mean time between failure (MTBF) of the older LANTIRN pods.

Litening-ER pods used on USMC Harriers provided excellent service during the US invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, being used for reconnaissance as well as targeting, and the Litening-ER proved so superior to the F/A-18 Hornet's Nite Hawk system that the Marines would like to use it on the Hornet as well.

* Raytheon has developed new targeting pod, the "AN/ASQ-228 Advanced Technology FLIR (ATFLIR)", to replace the Nite Hawk pod on the Hornet and the new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters. ATFLIR includes a much more capable FLIR than the Nite Hawk, providing greater stability, resolution, and 30x magnification; improved laser rangefinder and target designator; a CCD TV camera for daylight targeting; and generally improved systems.

ATFLIR is regarded as having from three to five times more range than the Nite Hawk. It can also provide GPS coordinates for GPS-guided bombs, and the Navy plans to add air-to-air modes later. Testing was completed in 2003 and the pod is now in production. The Navy hopes to obtain 574 ATFLIRS in all.

* The USAF recently conducted an "Advanced Technology Pod (ATP)" competition to replace LANTIRN, with an order of 522 pods for F-16s and F-15Es to go to the winner. Lockheed Martin submitted Sniper, Northrop Grumman submitted a variant of the Litening II, and Raytheon submitted a new pod that the company simply designated the "ATP", presumably with commonalities to ATFLIR.

All three pods in the competition provided high-altitude, long range search and targeting capabilities, using day-night imagers with zoom capabilities with a laser designator, controlled by high-precision stabilization systems to ensure precision from such distances.

Lockheed Martin's Sniper pod won the competition in August 2001. First deliveries of the "Sniper Extended Range (Sniper XR)" pod will be in January 2003. The USAF believes the Sniper XR will be the last external targeting pod obtained by the service, as aircraft in the procurement pipeline have built-in targeting systems.



* The first French targeting pod was the "Automatic Tracking and Laser Integration System (ATLIS)", which was built by Thomson-CSF using subsystems supplied by Martin Marietta. ATLIS began tests in 1976:77, and entered production as the smaller and lighter ATLIS II in 1980, with the SEPECAT Jaguar as the initial carrier aircraft.

ATLIS consists of a TV system with a boresighted laser. As ATLIS is carried by single-seat strike aircraft Jaguars, it has an interesting automatic target lock capability, allowing the pilot to launch a weapon and then go back to flying the aircraft.

Once the pilot gets the target in the crosshairs and then launches the weapon, ATLIS automatically keeps the laser beam locked on the target without further operator intervention, using some type of pattern-matching or edge-detection techniques. An INS keeps the laser on target even if clouds disrupt the pattern while the weapon is on the way to the target.

ATLIS is mounted on French attack aircraft such as the Jaguar, Mirage F1, and Mirage 2000. The most familiar laser-designated store for these aircraft is the AS-30L laser-guided ASM, though French SAMP LGBs can be also be designated. The Iraqis even used ATLIS on the Mirage F1 to designate for Soviet-Russian Kh-29L (AS-14 Kedge) ASMs. Interestingly, the ATLIS targeting pod has been used with Pakistani F-16s for use with the AS-30L and other laser-guided munitions, and ATLIS has been used with Thai F-16s as well.

* The French have developed a more advanced targeting pod, the Thomson-CSF "Pod de Designation Laser a Camera Thermique (PDLCT / Laser Designation Pod With Infrared Camera)". As its name suggests, it provides both television and thermal infrared target imaging and laser designation. It is used on Armee de l'Air Mirage 2000s.

Thales (as Thomson-CSF has been renamed) has also introduced their third-generation targeting pod, known as the "Damocles". It includes the latest FLIR technology, providing higher resolution and sensitivity; improved laser target designator and rangefinder; and two viewing modes, including a wide-angle mode of 4 x 3 degrees and a narrow viewing mode of 1 x 0.5 degrees. It does not appear to have a TV camera.

Damocles is designed to be more rugged and easier to maintain than its predecessors. It is now going into service with French Mirage 2000s, Super Etendard, and the new Dassault Rafale. Thales is also promoting an export version, the "Shehab".

* The British developed a targeting pod, the GEC-Marconi "Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator (TIALD)", for use with RAF Tornado strike aircraft. TIALD was combat-tested in prototype form during the Gulf War and produced in small numbers. It contains a television imager, a FLIR imager, and a laser all operating through common optics in a rotating-swiveling head.

TIALD has a number of interesting operating modes. At long range, it can be slaved to the Tornado's air-to-ground radar to lock onto the target, and then the weapons operator can choose between a wide or narrow field of view image. The narrow field mode has 2X and 4X magnification capability. TIALD has "auto-tracking" capabilities to keep the laser beam locked on a designated target, and also contains a profile in ROM to allow it to recognize when the laser is being blocked by parts of the carrier aircraft.



* The US Navy (USN) became interested in acquiring a SAR attack capability after the Kosovo campaign in 1999, when poor weather badly hampered NATO airstrikes, and has conducted investigations using a SAR pod designed by Elta of Israel and co-marketed by Lockheed Martin in the US.

The Super Hornet is expected to eventually obtain a SAR capability in any case. The Navy is working with Raytheon to develop an "Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA)" radar for the F/A-18E/F that will have SAR modes, but the service may not have the money to equip all the Super Hornets with the new radar. SAR pods could be obtained to equip Super Hornets lacking the AESA with the all-weather capability.

The US Air Force performed similar experiments, evaluating an Elta SAR pod on an F-16 fighter, with data from the SAR downloaded to ground stations in real time. The Air Force is now moving towards a AESA system that can be retrofitted to existing F-16s to give them SAR targeting capabilities, along with other radar operating modes. A SAR mode is also being developed for the RBE2 radar in the new Dassault Rafale fighter.


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