April 18, 2006 (by SrA Francesca Carrano) - The 416th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, working together with the 85th Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron from Eglin AFB, and the 422nd Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron from Nellis AFB, began accelerated testing of a LITENING AT targeting pod on March 17.
The crew of F-16 #87-0392 prepares to launch before a recent sortie in support of the LITENING AT plug-and-play test acceleration at Edwards AFB. [USAF photo by Tom Reynolds]
The LITENING-AT test will update the existing LITENING pod with several new capabilities for the warfighters, including a video downlink transmitter currently used in the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.
"The transmitter, called the Rover Module, was pulled out of the Predator and allows the video the pilot is looking at to be immediately, real-time downlinked to a ground station in the form of a laptop computer held by the joint terminal attack controllers," said Maj. Alan Wigdahl, 416th Flight Test Squadron chief of flight safety and experimental test pilot.
The videos can also be transmitted to ground commanders, allowing them to make immediate decisions about a target.
This capability will give troops greater situational awareness while minimizing the amount of time the F-16 must spend in the target area.
"This means the F-16 can stay far away, without alerting the enemy of our presence and give us real-time video for downlink to ground forces engaged in combat operations," said Andy Bromsey, 416th Flight Test Squadron project manager for the LITENING AT plug-and-play test acceleration.
A test acceleration gives priority to a test program here, enabling the test team to deliver a proven system directly to the warfighter in the least possible time.
"All the tests we do at Edwards are important," said Wigdahl. "However, there are some, as in the case of the LITENING AT pod, that are direct requests from the guys over in the Middle East who need a new or improved capability as soon as possible."
The team focuses on efficient testing, making sure they get the capability fully evaluated and out to the warfighter, said Kris Peterson, 416th Flight Test Squadron armaments engineer.
"With a critical schedule it doesn't pay to go up there and waste any time," Peterson said. "But we don't skip any of the processes we already have in place because they're designed to create efficient, safe testing. The challenge we have with test accelerations is we have to accelerate everything within a set time frame."
In mid-March, the F-16 systems group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, forwarded an urgent need request for a new capability to be delivered to U.S. Central Command.
"As soon as we received the tasking, we put the Edwards' program management planning tool into action," Bromsey said. "Within hours we were able to establish complete support for the test aceleration and analyze the effects on other test projects within the squadron."
One way of accelerating the test process was having the Operational Test and Evaluation units from Nellis and Eglin work alongside the 416th Flight Test Squadron, developmental testers.
Wigdahl explained that historically developmental test and evaluation determined if a system worked safely and as designed, and operational test and evaluation determined if the system met the warfighter's needs.
"In today's leaner Air Force, we've been able to combine developmental and operational testing by hosting operational test pilots here at Edwards or by deploying our teams to Eglin or Nellis," Wigdahl said. "These combined efforts are paying huge dividends by saving test resources and by improving the combat capabilities of the systems under test."
"The LITENING AT test acceleration was a perfect example of how the developmental and operational testing support agreements allow us to provide a better capability, more thoroughly tested, for the warfighter," he explained.
This new capability is scheduled to be operational, in theater, July 1.
The research and development program began at Rafael Corporation's Missiles Division in Haifa, Israel
, with subsequent completion of LITENING I for use in the Israeli Air Force. In 1995 Northrop Grumman Corporation's teamed with Rafael for further development and sales of the LITENING pod. Northrup Grumman Corporation completed product improvements on the "Basic Pod" including a third generation FLIR
, laser marker and software upgrades (LITENING II) which which was fielded with the Air Reserve components beginning in 1999.
Northrop Grumman subsequently replaced the "256" FLIR with a "512" FLIR. This pod, known as LITENING ER, extended the target detection range and began fielding in 2001.
The newest version, LITENING AT, began fielding in 2003. It further extends target detection and recognition ranges, improves the target coordinate generation accuracy, and provides multi-target cueing.