THE US AIR NATIONAL Guard has issued a requirement for 26 reconnaissance pods to be carried by Lockheed F-16s or McDonnell Douglas (MDC) F-15s.

The pods are to be available in 1996, when the US Air Force's last MDC RF-4C reconnaissance aircraft are retired.

The requirement has sparked quick-response pod-demonstration programmes by Lockheed Martin and MDC (Flight International, 3-9 May).

Lockheed Martin has equipped an Air National Guard F-16D with a "low-cost, low-risk" pod for a three-month operational evaluation to determine whether the reconnaissance mission can be performed using an existing F-16 multi-role unit.

Initially, the pod has been fitted with a Recon/Optical KS-87 camera, taken from the RF-4C and modified into an electro-optical sensor to eliminate the need for wet-film processing. The pod also houses an Apmex digital tape recorder.

Aircraft modifications include a global-positioning-system receiver to aid in locating reconnaissance targets.

Lockheed Martin says the "no-cost" evaluation by the Air National Guard will also help determine what improved capabilities are desirable.

The F-16 pod was flight-tested in the late 1980s with a real-time cockpit-video display and air-to-ground datalink, the company says.

The US manufacturer says, that the US Air Force has now decided to maintain a manned-reconnaissance capability and has drawn up plans, to modify 56 Block 30 F-16s to perform the mission, in addition to their normal air-to-air and air-to-ground roles.

Source: Flight International