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New Sniper pod sharpens pilots’ view of targets

Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Bliefnick learns how to install the new Sniper XR Advanced Targeting Pod prior to its maiden flight with the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.

COURTESY OF U.S. AIR FORCE

Kunsan’s Wolf Pack is first unit in PACAF to try new gear

By FRANKLIN FISHER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 15, 2005

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Should 8th Fighter Wing pilots at Kunsan Air Base have to find and bomb an enemy building, they now have new gear aboard that will show them sharp, detailed video images, right down to the structure’s individual windows.

And they’ll be able to launch bombs against that target from distances greater, and therefore safer for them, than older targeting equipment allows.

The new gear is called the Sniper XR — for “extended range” — Advanced Targeting Pod.

“I’d say any pilot who’s flown with it is ecstatic about it,” said Capt. Brian O’Neill, the wing’s chief of weapons and tactics.

The wing, known as the Wolf Pack, is the first within Pacific Air Forces to field the new Sniper pod. The pods were delivered to Kunsan in November for use by the Wolf Pack’s two F-16 squadrons: the 80th Fighter Squadron and 35th Fighter Squadron.

The new pods contain high-tech sensors and a powerful video camera showing ground targets, terrain features and objects — including airborne objects such as enemy missiles and fighters — at distances 50 percent to 300 percent farther than what earlier pods could see. The Sniper’s detailed images show up on the pilot’s cockpit display screen.

And the pod’s laser designator allows pilots to launch laser-guided and other types of “smart” munitions, including the JDAM, or Joint Direct Attack Munition.

The Sniper marks a big technological stride past the pod it replaces, the LANTIRN, which has been a U.S. fighter aircraft standard for almost two decades. LANTIRN stands for Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night.

Like the Sniper, the LANTIRN lets pilots see targets at long ranges and launch laser-guided bombs, also at night or in marginal weather.

But with Sniper, “I can see a target area at further range and I can see detail that I was not be able to see with LANTIRN,” O’Neill said. “I’m more sure that I’m dropping on the right thing … avoiding fratricide or collateral damage.”

A long-range LANTIRN image would be “very grainy … with blurry lines,” he said. With LANTIRN, the pilot can tell only “that is probably a building. … At an equivalent range with Sniper, I’m going to be able to tell that instead of a building, it’s a three-story building … and there’s seven windows on the north side and five on the east.”

O’Neill said the new pod’s capabilities are especially beneficial in the mission to defend the Korean peninsula, where rugged, broken terrain and spells of rough weather can make spotting ground targets difficult.

In South Korea, “the weather can be challenging to say the least,” he said. “And the terrain can provide a lot of challenges to pilots to see targets on the ground.

“So, absolutely, the increased clarity goes hand-in-hand with the challenges of the weather and terrain here.”


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