The Swiss Air Force is buying 14 ATFLIR (American Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared) targeting pods for its F-18 fighters. Since 2005, U.S. Navy F-18s have been using these pods with great success in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Swiss were apparently impressed.
ATFLIR is a$3 million device, which is considered about five times more effective than earlier models. ATFLIR can clearly see people on the ground from 40 kilometers away, and 6-7 kilometers up. Pilots can see people with guns hiding on roofs, or behind buildings, waiting to ambush approaching troops or convoys. Magnification at night is 30 times, and 60 times during the day. But at night, the ATFLIR gets sharper images because it is sensing differences in heat below. Things cool off rapidly in Iraq after the sun goes down, everything except the few people running around at night. The pilots like using the ATFLIR for this kind of reconnaissance, because they know it saves the lives of troops who would otherwise get ambushed.
The 429 pound ATFLIR can easily be swapped on and off aircraft to keep most of those F-18s that need it, equipped with it. This takes about 45 minutes, although it causes more wear and tear on the ATFLIR. Back in 2005, when the pod entered service, only four ATFLIRs are being produced each month, and it took a year or so for production to be increased so that American demand could be met.
F-18s and their ATFLIR are always in demand by ground troops, because of the combination of clear pictures (on a TV screen in the cockpit) of what is going on down there, and half a dozen smart bombs on board. The Swiss are also buying spare parts and maintenance and training services for their ATFLIRs, which is included in the price.