$27M for LITENING Targeting & Recon Pods
Northrop Grumman Corp. in Rolling Meadows, IL received a $27 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification to provide for LITENING advanced airborne targeting and navigation pods for U.S. Navy, Army, and Marine Corps use. Designed to improve both day and night attack capabilities, LITENING pods provide pilots with advanced image processing for target identification and coordinate generation, a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, charge-coupled device television (CCD-TV) sensors, a laser spot tracker/ range finder, and infrared laser marker/ designators. It is fully operational 24 hours a day and in adverse weather conditions.
Solicitation began July 2003, and the Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH issued the contract (FA8607-04-D-2751). DID estimates based on past orders that this procurement probably covers around 8 pods plus support.
So, why has the LITENING become the default targeting and surveillance pod for so many air forces around the world?
LITENING: Born from a Desert Storm
One of the primary lessons learned from Operation Desert Storm in 1991 was that modern air forces need the ability to operate 24 hours a day in adverse weather conditions and to deliver precision guided weapons. Later operations in Bosnia also highlighted the need for a precision-strike capability within the Reserve.
In Desert Storm, aircraft using precision weapons typically destroyed with just two bombs targets which in World War II required 9,000 bombs and in Vietnam 300. The pods used in Desert Storm were expensive single purpose systems, however, which required multiple pods to perform various missions. Until LITENING entered production in 1992, no system incorporated in a single pod all the features required by a modern air force. LITENING’s popularity stems from the fact that it combined multiple sensors for maximum flexibility in a single pod, at low cost.
LITENING I pods were supplanted by LITENING II, which was superseded by LITENING ER (extended range). LITENING AT (advanced technology) added a number of improvements and is the most commonly ordered pod at the moment; while LITENING III competes with pods like the Lockheed Sniper XR as RAFAEL’s highest end offering.
This integrated array enables the pilot to effectively detect, recognize, identify, track and engage ground targets in day, night and under adverse weather conditions. With the pod’s systems they can designate such targets by laser, for attack by other aircraft or by precision guided weapons carried on board.
The pod integrates the necessary laser rangefinder and designator, required for the delivery of Laser Guided Bombs, cluster and general purpose bombs. Laser spot detection is utilized in cooperative missions, for rapid orientation, detection and recognition of targets, marked by other forces.
Identification of aerial targets from beyond visual ranges is also provided with the inertial navigation system assisted gimbaled sensors, as the sensors can continuously point to the target’s direction regardless of the aircraft position, or interference of clouds or obscurants. This combination also enables employment of the sensors in “point of interest” mode, where LITENING enables free maneuvering during and after the attack path, while keeping the target clearly visible and marked for precision attack. The same sensors can provide imagery for night navigation as well as hit verification and battle damage assessment after the attack. RAFAEL partner Carl Zeiss Optronics has more information.
John Wilson’s article in the July-August 2005 issue of The Officer noted that Lt. Gen. John Bradley, chief of the Air Force Reserve, had told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “The acquisition of the LITENING Advanced Targeting pod marked the greatest jump in combat capability for AFRC F-16s in years.”
These capabilities have been put to use during Operation Iraqi Freedom. John Sponauer’s interview with an A-10 pilot in the 103rd Fighter Wing, Connecticut ANG even had the pilot noting that:
“A-10 guys understand that wars are won by the 18-year-old on the ground with a rifle, and they loved having us overhead. We actually would get called specifically… they would say, “Are you A-10s with the LITENING pod?”
in 2002 Brig. Gen. William Rew, the former U.S. Central Command Air Forces and 9th Air Force director of operations, decided to begin using LITENING pods for Surveillance, & Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. As USAF Col. Gerstein explained: “Previously, a large portion of the time a tactical aircraft was on airborne alert or on the way to and from a target was non-productive time. Using the litening pods for ISR has made that time extremely productive.”
“The LITENING pods have such a good sensor that we can stay out of noise range and still complete the mission,” said Capt. Dan Sanders, an F-16 pilot who flies out of Balad. “Most of the time the guys on the ground want to catch the bad guys in the act, not scare them off, so we stay high enough or far enough away that the bad guys don’t hear us.”
A subsequent anecdote in Wilson’s article concurs, noting the pod’s use by Air Force Reserve pilot Lt. Col. Brad Bullard while providing close air support in his A-10 to elements of the 101st Airborne Division as it surrounded a house in Iraq where Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, were hiding.
Increasing use of these pods in what are essentially armed reconnaissance roles has even led to a dedicated spinoff, the REECELITE reconnaissance pod.
LITENING Strikes Abroad – Many Times
The pod’s success can be measured by the fact that the Israeli targeting pod has been procured by 16 air forces, and that LITENING compatibility is fully integrated in many popular aircraft types. LITENING AT pods are currently fielded with US Navy F/A-18 Hornets. A combination of LITENING AT, LITENING II and LITENING ER pods are operational on AV-8B Harrier IIs flown by the US Marine Corps, US Air National Guard F-16s and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, US Air Force Reserve Command F-16s and B-52s, and US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles.
DID research shows that other countries and services who have bought LITENING pods include the Israeli Air Force (LITENING II and III on F-16 variants and may include F-15I), Royal Australian Air Force (AT on F/A-18s), Dutch RNAF (AT on F-16s), Finnish Air Force (AT on F/A-18C/Ds), German Air Force (L-III on Eurofighter, Tornado IDS and F-4F+ Phantom IIs), Indian Air Force (reportedly on Mirage 2000, MiG-27 and Jaguar aircraft), Italian Navy (on AV-B Harrier IIs), Hungarian Air Force (L-III on JAS-39 Gripen), South African Air Force (L-III on JAS-39 Gripen), Spanish Air Force (F/A-18s and naval AV-B Harrier IIs), UK Royal Air Force (“LITENING EF” on Eurofighter, and now GR4 Tornados), and Venezuela’s FAV (F-16A/Bs). Singapore’s RSAF also uses it (L-III on its F-16 fleet), though it has selected Lockheed’s Sniper pod to equip its F-15SGs, and will add Sniper ATPs to its F-16 Block 52+ aircraft as well.
LITENING is often marketed under a joint agreement between Northrop Grumman Corp. and its creator RAFAEL, the Israeli Armament Development Authority. RAFAEL supplies the forward (sensor) section, and Northrop Grumman supplies the aft (electronics) section of the pod. Northrop acts as lead for the LITENING AT, while RAFAEL markets the LITENING III and its derivatives.
Other joint venture agreements include Zeiss Optronik, who integrated the pod with Germany’s fighter aircraft and made LITENING III integration a standard feature for Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen 4th generation fighter.
Additional Readings & Sources
- RAFAEL – LITENING – Airborne Targeting Pod
- Northrop Grumman – AN/AAQ-28 (V) LITENING Low Risk, Next Generation Targeting Pod
- US Air Force Link, Factsheets – LITENING II/ER/AT
- Defense Update Magazine – RAFAEL Litening Targeting Pod
- GlobalSecurity.org – AN/AAQ-28 LITENING Advanced Airborne Targeting and Navigation Pod
- USAF (March 28/08) – Upgraded B-52 still on cutting edge
- RAFAEL (Dec 4/07) – Litening pod for the German Tornados. And, more important, for its Eurofighter Typhoons.
- NGC (Dec 4/07) – Northrop Grumman Corporation’s LITENING Advanced Targeting System Achieves Operational Availability Milestone. LITENING AT achieves more than 2 years and 765,000+ operational hours (370,000+ combat hours) of operational availability consistently above 95% among all U.S. customers, thanks to an aggressive In-Service Reliability Improvement Program (ISRIP) in which operational pods are evaluated under mission conditions for design deficiencies, and improvements and corrective actions are incorporated.
- NGC (Nov 14/07) – Northrop Grumman Awarded Contract for LITENING Precision Targeting System Data Links. All part of their 4th generation LITENING pod, which is described. See also DID coverage.
- NGC (Sept 4/07) – Northrop Grumman to Demonstrate Newest LITENING Targeting System During U.S. Joint Forces Command’s ‘Bold Quest’ Exercise. “The recent modifications of LITENING’s digital infrared sensor, advanced laser designator, combat identification sensor coupled with the Air Force’s latest secure data link, being developed under the Tactical Targeting Network Technology program, will provide for the longest detection and identification ranges of any targeting pod and allow secure network transmission of video and associated metadata… Moreover, these new technologies form the basis for the new LITENING 4th Generation system currently undergoing development and testing.”
- USAF Air Force Link (Feb 16/06) – Falcon Eyes Roam Iraqi Skies
- The Officer (July-August 2005) – Litening AT: proven precision strike capability
- AFPN (Aug. 25/04) – Airmen keep Litening pods striking (RE: A-10s)
- SimHQ (May 10/04) – Desert LITENING – The 103rd FW in Iraqi Freedom
- Space Daily (March 11/04) – LITENING AT Targeting System to be Integrated on F/A-18D Aircraft
- Marine Corps News Service (May 12/03) – 24th MEU’s jets bomb Baghdad, Tikrit (AV-8Bs)
- AFPN (March 12/03) – B-52 Litening II pod used in combat
Appendix A: Scoping The Buy: Past Orders
Though the contract did not mention how many pods were being purchased, some reference contracts may help. The USAF Reserve’s initial program to equip four F-16 squadrons involved 16 pods at $53 million ($3.3 million each), including support equipment, training, and initial maintenance support. By July 2000, however, a procurement order of 15 LITENING II pods plus support and training for Harrier aircraft of the US, British and Spanish navies cost only $25 million ($1.67 million each). In 2001, a USMC order of 47 LITENING II pods for its AV-8B Harriers cost $54.8 Million ($1.16 million each). In 2003, an order for 24 LITENING IIs for F-15E Strike Eagles cost $32.6 million ($1.35 million each). Finally, in 2004, amidst a number of refits and upgrades there was also a USMC contract to purchase 8 of the more advanced LITENING AT pods for its F/A-18s at a price of $10.3 million ($1.28 million each). Note that all LITENING pods in US servicve have now been upgraded to the LITENING AT standard.
The USAF’s Air Force Link fact sheet lists the price at $1.4 million each, though it does not note which fiscal year dollars are used as the baseline. Note also that many contracts, especially those that represent the LITENING’s inaguration with a country’s military, will include a substantial technical, spares and maintenance compnent. If the new customers are mounting the pod on a new aircraft type, platform integration costs may also factor in.