Northrop Grumman is working with Boeing on a 90-day programme to integrate the Litening targeting pod with the F-15E for possible contingency use by the US Air Force. The Rafael-developed infrared/electro-optical targeting system offers greater capability than the F-15's LANTIRN pod, which is scheduled to be replaced by the Lockheed Martin Sniper XR.

Initial Sniper deliveries have slipped, and are now expected by year-end, with operational testing starting in January to support initial operational capability on US Air National Guard Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 30s and USAF F-16 Block 50s later in 2003. "Flight tests were initially delayed due to higher priority programme needs of the US Air Force," says Lockheed Martin. The air force has ordered 44 of a planned 522 pods, all for F-16s.

"The F-15E is an integration programme. The air force has not decided to buy any pods. That will depend on Iraq," says George Miller, direct financial planning. "We are working with Boeing on finalising the integration."

Northrop Grumman is also co-operating with Boeing to integrate Litening with the B-52, again with USAF backing, with a demonstration scheduled for the first quarter of next year. A "quick demonstration" on the Fairchild A-10 was conducted earlier this year. "The [US Air Force] reserve is very interested," says Miller.

Northrop Grumman plans to demonstrate the Litening on a Boeing F/A-18 by year-end, when Canada is expected to issue a request for proposals for around 40 pods to equip its Hornets. Lockheed Martin will propose the Pantera export version of Sniper; Raytheon will offer the ATFLIR pod entering production for US Navy F/A-18s; and Northrop Grumman will bid with the improved Litening AT.

Due to fly this month on an F-16, the Litening AT provides target co-ordination generation, multi-target cueing and improved air-to-air capability. It has the higher-resolution thermal imager of the Litening ER pod delivered to the US Marine Corps for Boeing AV-8Bs. Miller says a US Air National Guard follow-on order for 16 pods to equip F-16s will be Litening ATs.

Source: Flight International