We have all seen the Pentagon briefings and clips on the news featuring vehicles with armed ne’er-do-wells inside fleeing an area at a high rate of speed, only to be interrupted–permanently–by the sudden arrival of a precision-guided munition. Especially noteworthy are aerial attacks on structures, even specific parts of structures, targeted in such a fashion to minimize the chances of collateral damage and non-combatant casualties.

A number of key factors play into the delivery of ordnance onto a target. You obviously have the weapon itself, selected for a specific, kinetic effect within the parameters outlined by whatever ROE or SPINS assigned to your mission. The very type of mission you’re flying comes into play: CAS? DT? ACA? SEAD/DEAD?

Then, add in the weaponry delivery envelope parameters, which vary greatly depending on the weapon you’ve chosen to employ. You also have other LIMiting FACtors (LIMFACs)–things like weather, smoke and debris in the air obscuring your visual reference points, electronic interference (or jamming), ingress and egress routes…the list goes on.

Perhaps the most important factor is the targeting system itself. When it comes to putting ordnance on target in a very efficient and precise fashion, no other unit enables it perhaps as well as the Lockheed-Martin AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, a unit currently fielded by US and coalition fighters–Harriers, A-10s, B-1s, B-52s, CF-18s, F-15s, F-16s, and Tornado GR4s.

A Rockwell (Boeing) B-1B Lancer equipped with the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper pulls off the tanker while en route to engage insurgent positions.
A Rockwell (Boeing) B-1B Lancer equipped with the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper pulls off the tanker while en route to engage “insurgent” positions during Green Flag-West.

Sniper is an electro-optical targeting system in a single, aerodynamically efficient pod weighing less than 450 pounds. Relatively speaking it is lightweight, reduces drag, and is compatible with the latest precision-guided munitions.  Sniper is capable of detecting, identifying and engaging multiple moving and fixed targets in both air and earth-centric scenarios, but also presents an answer to the challenge of non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (NTISR).

That’s a fancy way of saying that Sniper is capable in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground employment, in addition to scanning a route of travel for ground-troops and helping to ensure safe passage along their chosen path.

The pod incorporates a high-resolution, medium-wave third-generation forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and a charge-coupled device (CCD) television camera system. The sensors and image processing algorithms enable target identification at ranges that minimize exposure to the threat rings of many air defense systems, making it a perfect choice for the SEAD/DEAD (Wild Weasel!) mission.

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The dual-mode laser offers an eye-safe mode for urban combat and training operations, along with a laser-guided bomb designation laser for guiding in precision munitions. For coordination in CAS and Dynamic Targeting missions, the pod is also equipped with a laser spot tracker, a laser marker, and a video downlink which allows properly-equipped JTACs to see exactly what the pilot is looking at in his or her cockpit, thereby shortening the kill chain with rapid target ID.

A Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle equipped with the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod.
A Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle from the U.S. Air Force Weapons School equipped with the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod.

Here’s another look at what Sniper can do on a very basic level, demonstrating its ability to look in on a target area from standoff distances, as well as tracking an airborne target for the purposes of visual identification–a capability of great interest to Air National Guard units flying Aerospace Control Alert:

It is an immensely capable system and a powerful force-multiplier for combatant commanders on the ground and in the air, enabling positive identification and precision strike on a level previously unheard of with legacy targeting systems like the Low Altitude Naviation/Targeting InfraRed for Night (LANTIRN) previously fielded by tactical air assets.

If you’ve ever wondered about how those precision target engagements are done, we hope this provided some of the answers you were looking for.

Until next time, FighterSweep Fans!