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Northrop/Rafael in Litening move

Guy Norris/SAN ANTONIO

NORTHROP GRUMMAN and Rafael of Israel have teamed for the production, sales and future product improvement of the Litening airborne laser-designator and navigation pod.

Under the terms of the agreement, signed in early September but not officially announced until 28 November, Northrop Grumman will also develop a third-generation forward-looking infra-red system to integrate into the Litening pod.

Northrop Grumman will be prime contractor for the Litening system on US military aircraft sold within the USA and to allied nations through foreign military sales (FMS) and F-5 upgrade programmes. Rafael will be prime contractor on most international programmes, particularly those involving the Lockheed Martin F-16 for which the pod was first developed.

Rafael will deliver the forward section of the Litening system to Northrop Grumman which will "...build and test out the electronics in the aft", says Northrop Grumman programme manager Norm Dyson. "We'll then integrate and put the two together. The same sort of guidelines will also apply to FMS sales, although, in the foreign marketplace, this will be decided on a customer-to-customer basis," he adds.

The first joint-production pod will be flown in 1996, with delivery of operational units to the Israeli air force at the end of 1996. The pod is expected to have initial operational capability on the Israeli F-16 fleet in 1997. The initial order is for 13 units, with options on at least a further 47. Compatibility testing has already been completed for both block 30 and 40 F-16 versions used by the Israeli air force and on export versions of the block 15 aircraft.

The formal teaming agreement is built on a relationship established between the companies two years ago. "Over that time we've worked with them to see what interest there would be and, finally, earlier this year a firm decision was made that we'd team," says Dyson.

Northrop Grumman says that it will "...take the pod to a lot of marketplaces", and believes that the compact and dual-use Rafael-designed system will be more attractive than the Lockheed Martin Lantirn system, which requires one pod for navigation and the other for targeting. It also believes that the younger Litening pod, design of which began in 1992, will be more attractive than the slightly older UK-made thermal-imaging and laser-designating (TIALD) system.

"We're basically three times cheaper than TIALD and more capable," claims Dyson, who adds: "Our pod has all the key sensors mounted up front and on a stabilised platform. All the others have sensors mounted in the back and have a large mirror on the platform, so the signal has to be taken across 'O' rings and slip rings."

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