Electronic Weapons: Targeting Pods Go Modular


July 2, 2015: There is a new upgrade for the AN/AAQ-28(V) LITENING targeting pods which does not add any new capabilities other than the ability to add or remove capabilities more easily. So easily that the work can be done by maintainers. Normally upgrades have to be done at the factory or a special facility with the equipment and specialists for that kind of work. The new OpenPod mod changes all that by making it possible to easily remove to install modules that change what a LITENING pod can do. For example, more cameras can be added to turn it into a recon pod, for quickly taking high-resolution photos and videos of a lot of territory.

Before the appearance of OpenPod capabilities, which will be included in all new LITENING pods there was a $200,000 upgrade available to bring older LITENING pods up to the latest (G4) standard. In 2014 the U.S. Department of Defense ordered that upgrade for over 500 U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps LITENING targeting pods. The G4 versions cost about $3 million each new and have annual maintenance costs of over $50,000 each. It is much cheaper to upgrade older pods than to buy new ones and with the OpenPod feature future mods will be cheaper and easier.

The G4 version entered service in 2008 with improved sensors and software, including the ability to have the software identify many military vehicles and systems automatically. The G4 version also has greater range and higher resolution, enhanced zoom capability and improved tracking software.

Targeting pods, packed with electronics and sensors, are very popular with fighter pilots, mainly because they 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 on the ground. 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. The 200 kg (440 pound) LITENING G4 pod hangs off a hard point, like a missile, bomb, or fuel tank.

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 using a targeting pod 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.

In 1990, the first targeting pods (the American two- pod LANTIRN system) were nearly ready for service. These early electronic targeting pods looked like thin bombs and contained laser designators and night vision equipment. LANTIRN got a workout in the 1991 Gulf War, even though the system was still undergoing testing. Israel soon (1992) followed with a cheaper, more reliable, and more capable LITENING system. An American manufacturer 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. Over 1,200 LITENING pods are in use by 25 countries. Since 1995 the Israeli firm that designed LITENING has jointly developed and sold LITENING with an American partner (Northrup Grumman).






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