Substantially improved F-16 aircraft targeting pod in testing at Edwards Air Force Base

The first of two series of flight tests is in progress at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on the Sniper XR advanced targeting pod for the U.S. Air Force F-16 jet fighter.

by J.R. Wilson

EDWARDS AFB, Calif. — The first of two series of flight tests is in progress at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on the Sniper XR advanced targeting pod for the U.S. Air Force F-16 jet fighter.

The new multipurpose targeting and navigation system pod is to provide tactical aircraft with 24-hour precision strike capability against land- and sea-based targets. The 416th Flight Test Squadron is conducting 25 test flights through July, with an additional 22 scheduled in a second series ending in December.

The pod incorporates a high-resolution, mid-wave, third-generation forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, a dual-mode laser, charge-coupled device (CCD) visible-light camera, along with a laser spot tracker and a laser marker.

The Sniper XR is to provide a significant improvement in standoff ranges compared to existing targeting systems. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando, Fla., claims advanced image-processing algorithms, combined with rock-steady stabilization techniques, deliver three times the performance of the best systems in service today.

Compatible with the latest standoff weaponry, Sniper is intended to provide automatic tracking and laser designation of tactical-size targets via real-time imagery presented on cockpit displays.

Lockheed Martin experts say the system design includes automatic boresight and aircraft alignment, tactical and eye-safe diode-pumped laser with no altitude restrictions, advanced target/scene imager with inertial tracker, passive air-to-air target detection and tracking, passive ranging, and precision geo-coordinate generation for J-series weapons. The supersonic, low-observable design also is to produce a substantial reduction in drag and weight.

"Our testing at Edwards allows us to make specific and repeatable test points," says Perry Choate, the Air Force F-16 Sniper Program project engineer. "This new targeting pod needs to be tested with each capability provided. We need to be able to provide to our customer specific answers on how well the infra-red camera works."

Lockheed Martin will provide 168 pods, associated equipment, spares and support in the initial element of a seven-year, $843 million contract for as many as 522 pods to be installed on Air Force F-16CJ Block 50 and some Air National Guard F-16 Block 30 fighter aircraft. Additional testing also may be conducted using other fighters, such as the F-15E Strike Eagle, to evaluate the pod's performance and integration.

Choate says project pilot Capt. Scott Thompson was briefed on a number of deficiencies already found in the early tests and has a challenging task in providing a workable solution instantly during a test flight.

"He not only has to fly the aircraft in very specific speeds, attitudes, and altitudes," he says, "but he also has to operate this pod and determine the potential problems and how to improve the aircraft and pod working together. These targeting pods add a new measure of complexity to the aircraft for the pilot to master."

A derivative of the Sniper XR also is being developed as the electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) for the Joint Strike Fighter.

"JSF EOTS and Sniper XR are leading-edge systems, giving pilots unprecedented long-range targeting capability," says Dan Fischoff, director of the Sniper XR and JSF EOTS programs at Lockheed Martin.

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