British Harriers to Get Advanced Targeting Pods
In September 2006, “The Major’s Email: British Harrier Support in Afghanistan, Revisited” described publicly-aired dissatisfaction with Harrier close air performance in Afghanistan. In the course of analyzing the issues raised, DID commented:
“British Harrier pilots have had difficulty identifying ground targets before; this was an issue in the 1982 Falklands War, for instance, and at least one pilot (Sqn. Leader Bob Iveson) got shot down trying. American Harrier pilots now rely on their LITENING surveillance and targeting pods to make their Harriers effective amidst the urban warfare challenges of Iraq; British Harriers use a Thales-Vinten Joint Reconnaissance Pod instead, which lacks the targeting functions and may not have been carried as integral equipment on the flights in question. In this case, as in so many others, the aircraft’s ancillary systems can be as important as the platform itself when it comes to determining battlefield performance.”
Now Britain has moved to address this exact issue, in the wake of an an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR)” request from front-line commanders in late 2006…
Britain’s Eurofighters will be equipped with a variant of RAFAEL’s LITENING III targeting pod, but after recent testing the Ministry of Defence awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to equip its newly-upgraded GR9 Harriers with the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP). The GR9’s upgrades centered around expanding its roster of precision weapons, and the new aircraft are being rotated into theater in Afghanistan to replace earlier GR7A models. This happening as NATO steps up its efforts and Britain steps up its commitment with another 1,400 troops, while the Taliban vow to retake the key southern city of Kandahar this spring.
Deliveries of the Sniper pods will begin in March 2007, with a full capability deployment scheduled for June 2007. In the meantime, ISAF’s primary in-theater surveillance and targeting assets will be the LITENING-derivative ReeceLite pods on German Tornados.
Like comparable advanced targeting systems such as ATFLIR and LITENING III/AT, the Sniper ATP permits pilots to detect and identify weapon caches and individuals carrying armaments while remaining outside jet noise ranges. In its Feb 26/07 release, however, Lockheed cited two key factors that it claims influenced Britain’s choice:
One factor was the Rapid Technology Insertion (RTI) Program that resulted a successful first flight of the Sniper ATP attached to a Harrier within 60 days from inception of the project. The RTI was jointly funded by Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, and SELEX.
Lockheed also quotes a Harrier test pilot who cited their pod’s long range performance, creating a stable, accurate, sharp enhanced zoom image in both TV and infrared.
The UK joins Belgium, Norway, Poland, Oman, Singapore, and the USAF as Sniper ATP customers.
May 2/07: Jane’s International Defence Review reports that the UK Harrier detachment operating from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, expects delivery of the new Lockheed Martin AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) in June 2007.