The US Air Force's Air Combat Command (ACC) has drawn up an operational requirement for an advanced targeting pod and will shortly be seeking industry proposals as a result of lessons learned during the Kosovo conflict.

"We're looking to field the system in a 2003 timeframe, initially on the [Lockheed Martin] Block 50 F-16C/D and possibly proliferating out to the Block 40 F-16C/D and [Boeing] F-15E," says an ACC official.

The air force, subject to approval, plans to issue a request for tenders before the end of the year. The requirement is tentatively for 100 pods, but this is likely to change based on money available from the post-Kosovo supplementary budget.

ACC requirements call for a targeting system that can be fitted to an aircraft using the existing Lockheed Martin Lantirn pod mounting.

Features are believed to include a laser designator, spot tracker and a supplemental target identification capability to enable "pilots to identify positively exactly what the target is", according to an official with the LANTIRN system programme office.

The pod will have an automatic boresight capability that will use the targeting forward looking infrared (FLIR) and the inertial navigation system to correlate the co-ordinates of the target designated by the laser. The FLIR will be a third generation system operating in either the 3-5 or 8-12um.

While no formal requests have gone out, informal meetings have been held with industry. The Rafael Litening II pod appears to be a leading contender, having been ordered for the Air National Guard's F-16s and which was evaluated on a US Marine Corps Boeing AV-8B (Flight International, 28 July-3 August) at the end of last month. The USMC requires up to 56 pods.

Ordering additional Litening II pods has been considered and would fit the ACC timetable.

The USAF's other options are to join the US Navy's ATFLIR programme being undertaken by Raytheon for the Boeing F/A-18E/F or select Lockheed Martin's "clean sheet design" Sniper pod, the Pantera version of which is being offered for export. Another possibility under consideration is the upgraded Lantirn 2000 pod.

• The Italian and Spanish navies may equip their AV-8Bs with the Rafael Litening pod following USMC tests of the Israeli targeting and navigation system. The USMC is expected to decide soon on a purchase, and Rafael sources suggest the two European navies will follow suit.

Source: Flight International