December 22, 2012: The first batch of Sniper targeting pods for Iraq has been ordered. These will equip the 36 F-16s Iraq has ordered in the last two years. Iraq has also bought 40,000 rounds of 20mm autocannon ammo, 100 AIM-9L/M Sidewinder heat seeking air-to-air missiles, 150 AIM-7M/H Sparrow radar homing air-to-air missiles, and over 500 smart bombs, plus Sniper and LITENING targeting pods.
The U.S. Air Force Sniper pods are updated to allow for instant sharing of video images with other aircraft and ground troops. This capability greatly impressed Iraqi troops who saw American ground controllers use that video feed to plan smart bomb attacks. This video sharing greatly increased the speed at which aircraft can deliver bombs or low level cannon attacks on ground targets. This video link also greatly reduced friendly fire incidents, which have long been a major hazard for troops calling in air support.
The Sniper pods are very popular with fighter and bomber pilots. They are used on American F-15, F-16, A-10, and B-1 aircraft. These pods contain FLIR (video quality night vision infrared radar) and TV cameras that enable pilots flying at 6,200 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 (from up to 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 capabilities also enable pilots to more easily find targets themselves and hit them with 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.
The 200 kg (440 pound) Sniper pod hangs off a hard point, like a missile, bomb, or fuel tank. Back in 1990, the first targeting pods (the U.S. two pod LANTIRN system) were nearly ready for service. These first electronic targeting 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, more reliable, and more capable Litening system. American manufacturers then brought out the Sniper XR and XTP 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 their aircraft is carrying or use a laser designator to drop bombs with extreme accuracy.