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'Eye of God' system looks to up accuracy of portable laser targeting

A soldier looks through a Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder (LLDR) during training in Hohenfels, Germany, March 6, 2013.

Dismounted troops soon will be able to use a lightweight laser target designator to call for accurate hits by GPS-guided rockets, mortars and artillery.

“They call this system the 'Eye of God,’” Scott McClellan, fire support branch chief at Fort Sill, Oklahoma’s Fires Center of Excellence, said of the newly fielded Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder (LLDR) 2H.

So-called “smart” munitions — which use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to guide themselves directly onto targets — have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan and are credited with saving the lives of civilians on the battlefield by reducing collateral damage.

However, the high-tech rockets, shells and bombs require precise information about their targets. Until now, portable laser target designators weren’t accurate enough. Troops often have had to “talk fire” onto a target by providing updated coordinates after the first rounds land.

“The new system with the improved accuracy you can get first-round effects,” McClellan said. “You don’t have to keep bracketing and say: ‘Drop 50, right 400.’ You can get an accurate target location first time.”

The new device will let forward observers call for fire from GPS-aided munitions such as the 155 mm Excalibur artillery round, the 120 mm precision-guided mortar and the guided unitary rocket, according to officials from Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier).

It can designate stationary targets up to three miles away — two miles if they’re moving — and can find the location of a target to within 33 feet at a range of 1.5 miles, officials said.

The laser designator, which will also be provided to Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), can provide coordinates for both GPS-guided and ordinary “dumb” munitions, McClellan said.

The Army is retrofitting 2,500 older laser designators to add the enhanced capabilities, said Lt. Col. Kevin Ellison, PEO Soldier’s product manager, soldier precision targeting devices.

“What we have provided the warfighter now is a precise, guided capability,” he said.

One of the forward observers who has helped test the new designator, Sgt. 1st Class Justin Rotti, 30, said he used an older laser designator to call for fire in eastern Afghanistan in 2008 after his forward operating base (FOB Shank) came under rocket attack.

Troops detected a heat signature from insurgents, used a laser designator to obtain the enemy’s position and then called in an air strike from an A-10 aircraft, he said.

The new laser designator will save time for ground troops because it obtains a target’s position immediately, Rotti said.

“The sensor can see further than any other dismounted sensor and it has a thermal capability which gives the soldier the ability to tell the difference between humans and the environment,” he said.

Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Mauer, of Sandpoint, Idaho, a fire support soldier assigned to 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea, said he expects the new laser designators to make forward observers more accurate.

Mauer said he called for fire from GPS-guided rockets during fighting in Baqubah, Iraq, but the process was time consuming and required troops to study computer maps and assign grid references to make sure the right building was targeted.

“If you are going into a place where you haven’t been before, your maps and graphics won’t be the greatest, so having a very accurate laser is going to be the key to having fast, responsible and accurate fires,” he said.

The new laser designator incorporates its own GPS to determine its location, along with a digital compass, celestial navigation system, thermal imager and camera. It costs $340,000 and weighs just over 31 pounds, five pounds less than older laser designators. The first of 200 new units was fielded at Fort Bragg in February, and they will be rolled out Army-wide in coming months, officials said.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

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