By Master Sgt. Patrick E. Clarke
Quick, precise and efficient. That’s how weapons
must be delivered in today’s combat environment.
Active-duty aircraft have this precision-strike capability, thanks to the advanced Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared Night System. Air Force Reserve Command is providing a similar capability for its fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons by acquiring the new LITENING II Precision Attack Targeting System.
“Bosnia in 1994 and 1995 punctuated the need for such a system,” said Maj. Peter Gretsch of the Operational Requirements Branch at AFRC headquarters, Robins Air Force Base, Ga. Gretsch served on a team responsible for acquiring the system. “The nature of the Bosnia operation mandated minimum collateral damage and maximum effectiveness per sortie. Although Reserve forces were ready and willing to support the mission, their lack of a precision-delivery capability significantly inhibited their participation.”
“The LITENING II system being purchased is similar to LANTIRN in size and system interface,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Thomas, AFRC program manager.
“However, it provides improved reliability and maintainability, along with state-of-the-art additional capability. The additional capability will include laser spot tracking, laser marking, ranging, and dual sensor input from both a forward-looking infrared camera and a state-of-the-art daytime video camera for greater flexibility under varying environmental conditions.”
While the operation in Bosnia highlighted the need for a precision-strike capability within the Reserve, the requirement was identified at a Reserve and Air National Guard weapons and tactics conference five years ago, said Lt. Col. Robert Hovden, A-10 action officer.
“The need for such a system was first expressed there,” Hovden said. “About three years ago we initiated an engineering and feasibility study to identify our options. The next step was to approach the F-16 system program office, which proceeded with the acquisition effort and actually evaluated and compared available systems. This took more than a year and a half.”
Hovden offered a simple explanation of how this complex system works.
“It presents an image like a magnified telescope — viewed on video displays in the aircraft,” he said.
“If you see a target, you put the cross-hairs on it. Then you put laser energy on it to help guide the bomb to the target. Another advantage is you can do all this higher up and further out, so there’s less danger to our pilots.”
As icing on the cake, the system is fully operational at night.
Maj. Michael J. Brill, operations officer for the 466th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah, looks forward to using the system. Brill has accumulated more than 4,000 flying hours in the F-16.
“I’d use the pod to help find the target, then use the forward-looking infrared sensor or daytime video camera on the pod to direct the airplane’s fire-control computer to give me my bombing solution,” Brill said. “Once the bomb is off, the laser in the pod guides the munition to the impact point.
“Currently, we have no real effective way to strike hard-to-kill reinforced targets. The only precision-targeted weapon capacity we have is the Maverick missile, which has a small warhead. We can carry laser-guided bombs, but someone else has to guide them to the intended target.”
The team of Northrop Grumman Corp. and Rafael, the Israeli Armament Development Authority, has been awarded the contract to supply the sensor pods to both the Guard and the Reserve. Rafael supplies the forward (sensor) section, and Northrop Grumman supplies the aft (electronics) section of the pod.
“It’s a $53 million program that includes support equipment, training, initial maintenance support and so on,” Thomas said.
The LITENING II system had its first U.S. flight test in May at Eglin AFB, Fla.
“The pilot enthusiastically touted it as a marked improvement over the LANTIRN system,” Thomas said.
The Reserve has 71 F-16s at four different units: the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB; the 944th FW at Luke AFB, Ariz.; the 301st FW at Carswell ARS, Texas; and the 482nd FW at Homestead ARS, Fla. Each wing will get eight pods.
“Ideally, we would want at least one pod per aircraft,” Thomas said. “However, eight pods per wing is the appropriate number based on fiscal constraints, employment concepts and anticipated taskings.”
Thomas said LITENING II is a non-developmental item, which means it’s ready for production as opposed to being under development.
“The item and technology exist today,” he said. “The Israelis are using it successfully on their F-16 fleet. And other nations throughout the world are in the process of purchasing the system.”
“This system is for the pilots, but two of the driving factors behind the purchase decision were maintainability and reliability,” said Thomas. “We had to be able to logistically supply and maintain the pod in every environment. This pod meets or exceeds those expectations.
“The training program will fit in with existing squadron training programs. Also, units won’t have to do any major work on it. It’s the latest technology in modern logistical support concepts.”
AFRC officials expect to receive the first four pods between January and March 2000.
“It’s gratifying and exciting to know that our Reserve F-16s will enter the dawn of the new millennium with a significant leap in capability,” Thomas said.
(Sergeant Clarke is a public affairs specialist with the 940th Air Refueling Wing at Beale AFB Calif.)