Last week, the United States Air Force’s 2nd Bomb Wing made its first live run with a new Lockheed Martin Sniper pod installed on the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress. Taking off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, the practice run introduces new combat abilities that will give the aging bomber better integration with ground forces and laser-guided bombs for precision strikes.
The sniper pod has already seen service with a number of fighter and bomber aircraft in both the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and allied forces. It has high resolution FLIR thermal imagers and HDTV, a dual mode laser designator, a laser spot tracker and a laser marker with the capability of sharing real time images and data with ground forces.
"With the pod we can integrate with the guys on the ground and let them see what we see. This way we are on the same page," said Capt. Ryan Allen, 20th Bomb Squadron radar navigation instructor. "It also gives us a greater visibility range over that of the previous one."
The pod is designed to recognize the aircraft to which it is being fitted, with the software configuring itself automatically, so installation is usually relatively simple. Though it did illustrate how the strategic bomber requires constant, system-wide upgrades to remain in service. "The way the pod can interact with our avionics system is state of the art," said Allen. "Most of the (bomber’s) systems had to be radically improved to give us total interaction between the new and old."
According to the Air Force, the new pods provide the aging airframe with a boost in capabilities. "This flight was the first time that the 2nd BW has used the sniper pod with live ordnance like the [Laser guided bomb]," said Allen. "This pod gives a faster response time to our targets. What would normally take me 30 to 40 button presses in five minutes now only takes me a few seconds to actually target and drop munitions."