The three-sided battle between Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to win the Advance Targeting Pod (ATP) competition is about to enter its final throes. The USAF will now be tasked with selecting an off-the-shelf system encompassing enhanced target identification performance and a low risk solution.

A final request for proposals is due to be released by the end of this month, with the Air Combat Command (ACC) planning to award a contract in June. This follows several months of delay, during which the US Congress had to be convinced of the need for a USAF programme separate from the US Navy. In the interim, all three systems have been flight demonstrated on a Lockheed Martin F-16 at Edwards AFB.

About $200 million has been budgeted for ordering an initial 168 pods, to be delivered from late 2002. There is an ultimate requirement for 599 ATPs by 2008 to replace LANTIRN pods on USAF and Air National Guard F-16 Block 40/50s and Boeing F-15Es. Baseline requirements include a 40,000ft (12,200m) altitude laser designator, spot tracker, third generation FLIR, two-phase maintenance and the option of a charged couple device television camera.

ACC has made ATP a non-development item (NDI), the only concession being $20 million for a combat identification capability as a result of lessons learned from Kosovo. This is viewed as a key discriminator in the competition, with the USAF leaving industry to offer a solution.

All three privately developed systems include provision for combat ID, but whether they are fully developed is a matter of debate. "Where most discussions have taken place is on combat ID, on whether the technology is mature enough or is it a preplanned product improvement programme. It's a matter of risk," says Mike Lennon, Northrop Grumman vice-president targeting systems.

Northrop Grumman's ATS is based on a development of the Litening II, incorporating a 512 x 512 staring mid-wave focal plane and dual wavelength eyesafe laser. Lockheed Martin's Sniper, incorporating a similar 512 x 640 mid-wave FLIR, is the product of a $100 million internal investment. "We're offering our system as NDI," says Daniel Fischoff, Sniper programme director.

Raytheon's ATP offering is derived from its Terminator system. It incorporates a 640 x 480 FLIR and is 85% common with the ATFLIR selected for the USN's Boeing F/A-18E/F. "The air force is very clear this is NDI. They have the ability to leverage off the USN's requirement and test on operational aircraft," says Gary Nault, Raytheon, electro-optical director of new business.

Source: Flight International