May 3, 2002 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The 416th Flight Test Squadron's F-16 Sniper Program at Edwards AFB incorporated new technologies when it began testing an advanced targeting pod here in mid-April. The Sniper XR targeting pod is a multi-purpose targeting and navigation system developed to provide modern tactical aircraft with a 24-hour precision strike capability against both land and sea based targets.
The pod is a self-contained sensor and laser designator system that allows for improved target detection and recognition. Among the pod's many capabilities are an infrared camera for thermal imaging and an additional camera that adjusts for daylight and low thermal contrast conditions.
The Sniper XR allows pilots to identify tactical targets at greatly improved standoff ranges over current targeting systems. The Sniper pod also offers a night vision goggle compatible infrared pointer for interoperability with ground forces.
As part of the program's initial setup, the Sniper targeting pods will first equip the Air Force F-16CJ block 50
aircraft and the Air National Guard's F-16 block 30
aircraft. Other aircraft such as the F-16 block 40
and F-15E fleets, may also take part in testing.
The initial contract with Lockheed Martin will provide 168 pods, plus associated equipment, spares and support. The seven-year contract provides up to 522 pods with an estimated value of $843 million.
More than 25 flights are planned from April through July with an additional 22 test flights running from August through December. An additional pod will be available for use as a spare for flight operations and used when two-ship testing is required.
The test team has budgeted the test program for just under $2.5 million, said Doug Pawlik, F-16 Sniper Program project manager. The 416th FLTS has two full-time people assigned to the project along with a number of part-time engineers to help analyze data.
The team's overall test objectives include evaluating the performance of the Sniper, evaluating its integration on each type of aircraft and exploring the military use of the pod.
Since the team is still early in the test program, a number of deficiencies have been found so far, Choate said. He added that the project's pilot, Capt. Scott Thompson, has a challenging job in testing the pod.
"He not only has to fly the aircraft in very specific speeds, attitudes, and altitudes," said Choate, "but he also has to operate this pod and determine the potential problems and how to improve the aircraft and pod working together."