The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
B-52s Rule the Waves
Discussion Board on this DLS topic
by James Dunnigan
September 14, 2007
Four years ago, the U.S. experimented with putting a Litening targeting pod on B-52s. Three years later, Sniper XR targeting pods were installed on some B-1B bombers. Heavy bombers used these pods for finding and attacking targets during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Currently, B-52s are practicing finding and targeting ships at sea, using their Litenin pods to hit moving ships with laser guided bombs. But the pods can also be used for intelligence collection, as remarkably detailed photos and videos can be made from high altitudes.
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.
Seventeen years ago, the first targeting pods (the U.S. two pod LANTIRN system) were nearly ready for service. These electronic pods, that looked like a thin bomb, were hung under the wing of fighters, and contained laser designators and night vision equipment. The LANTIRN got a workout in the 1991 Gulf War, even though the system was still undergoing testing.
Israel soon followed with a cheaper (each LANTIRN cost two million dollars), more reliable and more capable Litening system. American manufacturers then brought out the Sniper XR pod. All this competition has made the pods (one pod is all that is needed now) more capable, easier to use, more reliable and cheaper. Pilots can either snag GPS coordinates for a smart bomb it is carrying, or use a laser designator, to drop bombs with extreme accuracy. The latest pods can operate from as high as 50,000 feet altitude, which is outside the range of most anti-aircraft missiles.
B-52s have been training for maritime operations for several decades now, using a special version (AGM-84D) of the Harpoon anti-ship missile.