Paul Lewis / ORLANDO
Despite testing Lockheed Martin's Sniper XR targeting system, planned purchase of ATFLIR is expected to go ahead
The US Navy is expected to submit a report recommending against changes to its planned acquisition of Raytheon ASQ-228 ATFLIR targeting pods for the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet after recently completing a side-by-side evaluation of the rival Lockheed Martin Sniper XR pod picked last year by the US Air Force.
The USN was asked by the Department of Defense to evaluate Sniper following lobbying by Lockheed Martin. A pod was fitted to an F/A-18D at China Lake and by the end of May had flown 6.6h during five flights. "The navy programme office's conclusion was that flight evaluation results were useful and the Sniper performed as expected. The final report is expected to be completed by the end of July," says the USN.
"If they're looking we could accommodate them," says Lockheed Martin. However, it is understood that the USN's recommendation is to remain with the ASQ-228, having concluded that Sniper is not yet mature. The USAF last year selected Sniper over the Terminator ATFLIR variant and the Northrop Grumman Litening III. A key air force requirement was the growth provision for a combat identification capability.
There has been a strong political push for a number of years for the USN and USAF to adopt a common targeting pod. The USN is keen to stay with the ATFLIR despite deficiencies and delays highlighted by initial operational testing. The first operational Boeing F/A-18E/Fs, due to deploy this week aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, will be equipped with refurbished engineering development pods rather than production ATFLIRs.
The ATFLIR is not due to reach initial operational capability before next year's planned second F/A-18E/F deployment and only after completing a final operational evaluation. The USN is to order up to 574 ATFLIRs to equip itsF/A-18E/Fs and replace Loral AAS-38 pods on its F/A-18C/Ds.
Meanwhile, the USAF has ordered a second batch of 21 Sniper pods against a requirement for up to 522 to replace Lockheed Martin LANTIRNs on Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 30/40/50s and Boeing F-15Es. Norway has become the first Sniper export customer, ordering nine Pantera export variants for its upgraded F-16AM/BMs.