In a recent address to Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control employees in Orlando, FL, USAF Aeronautical Systems Center Commander Lt. Gen. William R. Looney praised Lockheed Martin’s Sniper XR Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) following the system’s recent successful deployment in Iraq. Ten of the U.S. Air Force Sniper pods were shipped to Lakenheath, England, and installed aboard Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles. These Sniper pods have now flown in more than 450 missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Designed as an affordable precision targeting system in a single, lightweight pod, Sniper is fully compatible with the latest J-series munitions and precision-guided weaponry. The U.S. Air Force selected Lockheed Martin in August 2001 to develop and build the Sniper XR pod for its Advanced Targeting Pod program. The targeting pod has been undergoing integration on a variety of aircraft to include the F-15E, the F-16 Block 30/40/50, the A-10 and the F/A-18. The Sniper ATP program has achieved several major milestones, including the successful operational deployment and completion of Phase 1 Qualification Testing and Evaluation (QT&E) and Phase 1 Qualification Operational Testing and Evaluation (QOT&E) flight testing at Eglin AFB, FL; Nellis AFB, NV; and the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Test Center in Tucson, AZ.
New and enhanced capabilities of the Sniper pods include a high-resolution, mid-wave third-generation Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), along with a dual-mode laser that includes a laser spot tracker and a laser marker, and a CCD-TV. The Sniper pod greatly improves an aircraft’s long-range target detection and identification via advanced image processing algorithms, combined with special image stabilization techniques. ATP program goals included a geopointing capability 10 times more accurate than the 1980s technology LANTIRN pods, with triple the recognition range and twice the resolution. The ATP can acquire targets at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet, for instance, versus the 25,000 feet typical of the last-generation LANTIRN pods.
These superior detection ranges are vital to pilots, helping keep them out of range of threat air defenses during their defining moments. Likewise, the supersonic, low-observable design results in a substantial reduction in drag and weight.
Maintainability is also enhanced. The Sniper XR pod was designed as a highly modular system that is partitioned into 39 lightweight line replaceable units (LRU). Traditionally, this type of LRU was replaced in base maintenance facilities or back shop as shop replaceable units. Through aggressive and innovative design efforts, these ruggedized LRUs are all flightline replaceable without the use of special tooling or support equipment. The Sniper XR’s BIT diagnostics system provides the maintainer the capability to fault isolate to these smaller, lighter LRUs and return them directly to depot level repair. This modular, two-level maintenance design contributes to lower life cycle costs.
“We have been able to maintain eight pods fully mission capable throughout this whole deployment, and most of the time all 10,” said General Looney. “They (pilots) are so in love with that capability, they don’t want to go anywhere without a Sniper pod. There is no comparison between any other pod in the world and the capability that Sniper brings.”
Finally, early 2006 improvements include full integration with the new ROVER system that lets troops on the ground transmit coordinates or even draw on digital maps, and have the results appear on the pilot’s map display as they talk.
Sniper pods are now flown on the U.S. Air Force F-15E and F-16 blocks 30/40/50, plus the A-10s incorporating the A-10C precision engagement upgrade program. In addition, Sniper is being integrated on the B-1 bomber.
On the export market, Norway (20, on F-16 A/Bs) and Poland (F-16 C/Ds) have already ordered the Precision Attack Navigation and Targeting (PANTERA) pod, now known as the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP). Additional orders have since trickled in from Belgium (8, on F-16 A/Bs), Britain (GR9 Harrier IIs), Canada (36, on CF-18 F/A-18 A/Bs), Oman (F-16), Pakistan (F-16 C/D), Saudi Arabia (40, F-15S Strike Eagle), and Singapore (24, F-15SG Strike Eagles).
Contracts & Events
March 4/19: Software Enhancements The US Air Force contracted Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control with a $13.3 million modification for SNIPER Comprehensive Advanced Targeting Pod. This Targeting Pod provides positive target identification, autonomous tracking, GPS coordinate generation, and precise weapons guidance from extended standoff ranges. It is a single, lightweight targeting pod with much lower aerodynamic drag than its predecessors. Due to its image processing that allows aircrew to detect, identify and engage tactical-size targets outside the range of most enemy air defenses, it holds a crucial role in the destruction of enemy air defense missions. The current modification provides for the software enhancements and data for the development of the E4.X Operational Flight Program. Work will take place in Orlando, Florida among other places within the USA and is expected to be finished by February 28, 2021.
September 28/18: FMS to Taiwan and Bahrain Lockheed Martin will deliver several targeting pods to the government of Taiwan and Bahrain. The deals are part of two Foreign Military Sale (FMS) delivery orders that cover the procurement of 19 pods for the Royal Bahraini Air Force, and 18 pods for Taiwan. The Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) is designed as an affordable precision targeting system in a single, lightweight pod, that is fully compatible with the latest J-series munitions and precision-guided weaponry. The Sniper pod greatly improves an aircraft’s long-range target detection and identification via advanced image processing algorithms, combined with special image stabilization techniques. The Sniper will equips Bahrain’s F-16 Block 70 fighters, and will be integrated onto Taiwan’s mid-life upgraded F-16s.
February 7/18: South Korea-Integration Completion South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has announced that all South Korean Air Force F-16s have been equipped with Lockheed Martin’s Sniper advanced targeting pod (ATP). According to the agency the new pods “significantly improves both air-to-air and air-to-ground operations.” The Sniper ATP laser designates small tactical targets at long ranges and supports deployment of all laser and GPS-guided weapons against multiple fixed and moving targets, significantly improving air-to-air and air-to-ground operations while reducing the odds of an erroneous strike. The pods were ordered by DAPA in 2013.
December 22/17: Contracts-Sustainment & Upgrade Lockheed Martin has been awarded a US Air Force (USAF) contract nearing $1 billion in value, for the sustainment and upgrade of the service’s fleet of 683 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods (ATP). Work on the five-year deal will take place at locations in Florida and Georgia, with work expected to wrap up by December 17 2022. Capable of being integrated on a wide variety of air platforms including the F-2, F-15, F-16, F-18, A-10, B-1, B-52 and Typhoon aircraft, the Sniper ATP detects, identifies, automatically tracks and laser-designates small tactical targets at long ranges. It also supports employment of all laser- and GPS-guided weapons against multiple fixed and moving targets. Paul Lemmo, vice president of Fire Control/Special Operations Forces Contractor Logistics Support Services at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said the award represented the “availability, reliability and performance” of the Sniper ATP to USAF warfighters worldwide, adding the firm was proud to “deliver our most advanced targeting technology and support ongoing operations.”
July 12/17: Bahrain has awarded a direct commercial sale contract to Lockheed Martin for the provision of Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods (ATP) for its F-16 fleet. Valued at $22.45 million, deliveries of the pods, along with spares and support equipment for integration, will take place in early 2018 in order to meet the Gulf monarchy’s urgent needs. The Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod combines sensor detection with laser and GPS-targeting information to precision guided weapons. It can also serve in a surveillance role to provide exact locations of targets. Bahrain is the 25th international customer for the program.
November 6/15: Kuwait has requested Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods from the US, with the Lockheed Martin-manufactured pods also recently seeing export success to Jordan in June. The request covers 14 Sniper pods for installation on Kuwait’s F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, with the potential deal estimated at $115 million.
October 26/15: The Air Force is buying kits to upgrade Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods from Lockheed Martin. The company has been awarded a $176.1 million contract to produce Sniper ATP-Sensor Enhancement configuration upgrade kits, as well as supply new Sniper ATP-SE pods. Deliveries will begin in late 2016, with the new ATP-SE incorporating new functionalities such as improved air-to-air and maritime targeting, upgraded sensors and a two-way datalink.
October 7/15: The Netherlands has signed a contract for 29 Lockheed Martin Sniper Advanced Targeting pods, with these set to equip the country’s fleet of F-16s. Jordan also opted to buy more Sniper pods in June, with Taiwan and Japan also recently placing orders.
August 17/15: Taiwan has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin for a pair of Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods for the country’s F-16s. Japan also recently acquired a pod for integration onto the F-2 aircraft, with Jordan signing for ten of the pods in June.
August 12/15: Japan acquired one Lockheed Martin Sniper targeting pod last year for trials on a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-2 fighter. The Japanese defense ministry reportedly allocated $49.1 million to test the targeting pod as part of a potential upgrade package for the JASDF’s F-2 fleet. Jordan signed a contract for more Sniper pods in June, with the pod’s integration on the F-2 marking the eighth aircraft platform that the pod has operated from.
Additional Readings and Sources
* Lockheed Martin: Sniper XP/PANTERA Advanced Targeting Pod
* GlobalSecurity.org: Advanced Targeting Pod Program
* This DID article includes links to stories about the Sniper’s contemporary competitors: the Raytheon ATFLIR pod that equips US Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornets, and the RAFAEL/Northrop-Grumman LITENING family that equips, well… just about everybody.