LOCKHEED MARTIN is building an infra-red search-and-track (IRST) sensor pod for flight demonstration on its F-16 in April-May 1997.

The company sees a substantial export market for the sensor, a podded version of the AAS-42 IRST in service since 1994 on US Navy Grumman F-14Ds. It has been cleared to offer the system to Japan for a McDonnell Douglas F-15 upgrade.

The IRST is a long-wavelength infra-red sensor which can produce a thermal image for display in the cockpit and target data for the mission computer. Compared with a radar, the passive sensor can scan a larger volume at longer range and with higher resolution.

Lockheed Martin Electronic Systems says that interest centres on the ability to launch the Hughes AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile with the radar off. The missile would be launched at a detected target and tracked by the passive IRST, with mid-course updates provided via the radar in low-probability-of-intercept mode, and active-radar terminal guidance.

The Orlando, Florida-based company says that combat analyses have indicated that F-16s with an IRST would have an improved loss-exchange ratio against the Sukhoi Su-27 by a factor of 2.3, and against the improved Sukhoi Su-35, which has a reduced radar cross-section, by almost 3.5.

Additionally, customers are interested in using the IRST for "non-hostile" cross-border surveillance, and as an alternative to acquiring expensive airborne early-warning aircraft, Lockheed Martin says. Tests are being conducted of its ability to track tactical ballistic missiles.

The company is fitting the sensor, processor and a liquid-cooling system into a modified Pathfinder navigation pod already cleared for carriage on the F-16's intake station. This installation will provide about a 10¡ look-up angle and full ±80¡ horizontal coverage. Production pods could be available within 16 months of an order.

Source: Flight International