Air Weapons: Switch Hitters


April 11, 2011: With the destruction of most of Libya's air force by the end of March, and growing combat activity by Kaddafi's ground forces, there has been a call for more ground attack aircraft.  So, when possible, air-superiority fighters are being switched to ground support. Britain prepared for this eventuality by speeding up modifications on its new air-superiority Typhoon fighters, so they could rapidly be switched to ground attack operations with the addition of a Litening targeting pod, smart bombs and Brimstone guided missiles. Typhoon pilots who normally flew the air-superiority version of the Typhoon, had to receive training in ground attack operations, and the use of the targeting pod. Thus the British, who have twenty Typhoon and Tornado fighters assigned to Libya duty, were able to quickly switch four of their Typhoons from air-superiority to ground attack duty. The small (48.5 kg/107 pounds) British Brimstone missile is perfect to knocking out individual armored vehicles on the coast road.

Ground attack technology has come of age in the last two decades. This includes smart bombs (GPS or laser guided) and targeting pods. By 2008, for example, the U.S. Air Force had all of its fighters and bombers in Iraq carrying targeting or reconnaissance pods. Both of these contain vidcams, with zoom, that can provide a live feed, day or night, of whatever is going on below. The targeting pods also contain laser designators and laser range finders, so that bombers can quickly program and drop a smart bomb or missile. Pilots can learn how to use these pods in a simulator, which quickly turns an air-to-air fighter into a very capable ground attack system.



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