Lockheed Martin AN/AAQ-13 – AN/AAQ-14 LANTIRN
During the Vietnam War the need to hit small bridges and other heavily defended targets led to the development of laser designation pods and ‘smart’ bombs that could guide themselves onto a target designated by a the laser. As technology improved and, particularly as electronic systems reduced in size, it became possible to combine even more useful features within a podded system. In the late 1970’s the US Air Force was looking out for a podded system that increased the combat effectiveness of their aircraft, by enabling them to fly at low-level at night and in bad weather, as well as allowing them to attack ground targets with a variety of precision-guided and unguided weapons.
Lockheed Martin began a research and development programme in Sep 1980 to meet this requirement and by Dec 1984 they had completed the initial operational test and evaluation of what had become known as the Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night or LANTIRN system. Low rate initial production of the LANTIRN commenced in Mar 1985 and the first production pod was delivered to the Air Force in Mar 1987. The LANTIRN system was originally built for the USAF F-15E Strike Eagle’s and F-16C/D Falcon’s. However, the success of the LANTIRN led the US Navy to purchase 19 modified AN/AAQ-14 targeting pods for use by their F-14A/B/D Tomcats. These pods included a global positioning and inertial navigation systems.
The LANTIRN system consists of two integrated pods mounted externally beneath the aircraft. The AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod contains of a terrain-following radar and a fixed infrared sensor, which provides a visual cue and input to the aircraft’s flight control system, enabling the aircraft to maintain a pre-selected altitude above the ground and avoid obstacles. This sensor displays an infrared image of the terrain in front of the aircraft to the pilot of the aircraft’s head-up display.
The AN/AAQ-114 targeting pod contains a high-resolution, forward-looking infrared sensor, which displays an infrared image of the target to the pilot, a laser designator-rangefinder which allows precision delivery of laser guided munitions, a missile boresight correlator which allows automatic lock-on of the AGM-65D Maverick missile and software for automatic target tracking.
In 1999 the Tomcats AN/AAQ-13 pods were given an upgraded software package, allowing more accurate weapons employment as well as recording more accurate target co-ordinates. Utilising their Fast tactical Imagery (FTI) system the F-14 crews could transmit digital images captured by the pod video system to another Tomcat or back to the carrier. This ability enabled immediate battle damage assessment, quick location of targets of opportunity or allowed the position of a target to be accurately determined for targeting by other weapons. The LANTIRN Bomb Impact Assessment (BIA) modification programme for the USAF pods integrated a radiometer, digital recorder and portable data transfer device with the first modified pod delivered in 2002. Further upgrades to the LANTIRN system, improving the acquisition, identification and weapons employment ranges are planned.
In Operation Desert Storm the lack of tactical reconnaissance assets was one of the major weaknesses of the coalition forces. To help overcome this problem it was realised that the LANTIRN pods carried by the F-15E Strike Eagles could record imagery of potential targets, as well as carrying out their primary mission, turning these strike aircraft into very useful reconnaissance assets. This capability was also employed by the LANTIRN equipped F-16s and the USN F-14s, going some way to overcome the lack of up to date imagery that caused such problems to pilots planning a mission and was used extensively during the ‘Great Scud Hunt’. Other countries which have purchased the LANTIRN for their F-16s include Belgium, Portugal, Holland, Norway and Denmark and the additional reconnaissance capabilities this system provides add considerably to the flexibility of these aircraft.