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More bombs on target: laser targeting pod improves B-52 precision-strike capability.

A little more than a year after dropping state-of-the-art "smart" bombs from their B-52s for the first time in combat, members of Air Force Reserve Command's 93rd Bomb Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, La., were involved in tests to improve the bomber's precision-strike capability.

In October 2001, B-52 crews from Barksdale deployed to a forward operating location for 120 days as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. While deployed, they flew hundreds of combat missions over Afghanistan, successfully delivering both traditional "dumb" bombs as well as smart weapons guided to their targets by global positioning system satellites.

Having established the B-52 as an effective asset in the close air support mission, the Barksdale reservists embarked on a series of tests in February designed to further refine that newly established precision-strike capability. The tests involved using a Litening II precision attack targeting system, which is currently used on Reserve F-16s, in an effort to help crews better locate, identify and verify assigned targets before delivering their weapons.

In the final test flight, which took place in mid-Marcia, a 93rd BW crew released three GBU-12 inert laser-guided munitions from an altitude of 35,000 feet. All three recorded direct hits on the intended target.

Based on those positive results, officials are confident the Litening II will help B-52 crews throughout the Air Force put more bombs on target while minimizing or eliminating collateral damage and fratricide.

"Without a doubt, having the capability to use advanced sensors as our 'eyes' for locating and identifying targets is enormous from the altitudes we operate," said Lt. Col. William "Sleepy" Floyd, a radar navigator and test project manager. "We've seen, just recently in Operation Enduring Freedom, that all strike platforms require the capability to recognize and correct for target location errors, especially during real-time targeting scenarios."

While deployed for Enduring Freedom, the squadron achieved a mission success rate of 97 percent. Aircrews expect that the Litening II pod will help them improve on that already impressive mission success rate while decreasing collateral damage.

"We're very excited about the B-52 Litening II targeting pod program and the enhanced capabilities the pod will provide," said Brig. Gen. Jack C. Ihle, commander of the 917th Wing at Barksdale. The 917th is the host wing for both the 93rd Bomb Squadron and the 47th Fighter Squadron, which flies A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. "The B-52 has been a workhorse for the Air Force for 50 years, and it just keeps getting better with age. Improvements like Litening II will help the bomber meet its mission requirements into the foreseeable future."

"Putting bombs on target is what the 13-52 is all about," said Maj. Gen. David E. Tanzi, commander of AFRC's 10th Air Force, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. "We're confident the Litening II pod will help our B-52s put more bombs on target with greater accuracy. And that's extremely important when friendly troops are in close proximity to the target area."

While the 93rd was the lead squadron for testing the pod, the B-52 Litening II program has been a complete total force effort. One of its biggest supporters is Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the active duty's 8th Air Force at Barksdale.

"Litening II has proven its worth on a number of aircraft in the Air Force inventory, and it just makes good sense to add this capability to the B-52," Carlson said. "It will help our crews positively identify and verify their target, update target coordinates when necessary, and minimize collateral damage while destroying targets."

"The test program went better than expected," said Maj. Jeff Swanson, program manager at Headquarters AFRC, Robins AFB, Ga. "Many organizations provided outstanding support to expeditiously complete the test and then deploy this capability forward in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Adding this capability will certainly enhance our B-52s' mission effectiveness and support the theater commander's objectives."

"We've been pushing this initiative since 1998 after learning Air Force Reserve Command was purchasing this system for its F-16s," Floyd said. "It just made sense to use 93rd Bomb Squadron and 917th Wing resources for the test since we've been involved from the beginning."

The Litening II pod is a self-contained, multi-sensor laser target designating and navigation system. It enables pilots to detect, acquire, track and identify ground targets for highly accurate delivery of weapons, both conventional and precision-guided.

"Our Litening team worked closely with AFRC and Boeing (manufacturer of the aircraft) to make this integration a success," said Mike Lennon, Northrop Grumman targeting and surveillance programs vice president. Northrop Grumman manufactures the targeting pod. "Integration of the Litening system on the B-52 provides AFRC with alternatives for conducting precision targeting, day and night, that other systems cannot currently provide."

For the tests, technicians from the 917th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron modified two B-52s.

"We had to install heavier gauge wire and larger circuit breakers to support the increased amperage needed for the pod, along with modifying the attaching station with different electrical connectors and video lines," said Master Sgt. Kermit Morris, a 917th bomb navigation technician.

"Installing the pod was relatively easy, and we didn't encounter any problems that couldn't be fixed on the spot," said Master Sgt. Johnnie Gilbert, a 917th weapons technician.

The pod allows laser designation and infrared marking of targets for ground troops from altitudes greater than 40,000 feet.

The Air National Guard and Reserve Test Center in Tucson, Ariz., directed the operational utility evaluation, which tested and documented the suitability and compatibility of the Litening II targeting pod on the B-52. The center has been testing and evaluating the pod on various aircraft since 1998 and is the responsible test organization for the B-52 targeting pod integration. Before this test program, the system had primarily been used on fighter air craft. The B-52 is the seventh type of U.S. military aircraft, and the first heavy bomber, to use the Litening targeting system.

While B-52 crews in Louisiana were testing the Litening II pod, flight test experts at Edwards AFB, Calif., were busy working on the B-52 Avionics Midlife Improvement Program. AMI is specifically designed to upgrade the B-52 offensive avionics system and includes replacing the inertial navigation system, the avionics control unit, the data transfer system, and all associated hardware and software.

"With the Litening II pod beginning to demonstrate its significance for enhancing B-52 operations, now would be the time to permanently integrate this capability into AMI," Swanson said.

AMI flight testing began in mid-December and is scheduled to continue through March 2004.

B-52 uses pod in combat

For the first time in combat history, a B-52 Strato-fortress used a Litening II targeting pod to strike targets at an airfield in northern Iraq April 11, according to officials at the U.S. Central Command's combined air operations center.

A crew of reservists from the 93rd Bomb Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and active-duty airmen from the 23rd BS, Minot AFB, N.D., flew the bomber from a forward-deployed location and dropped one laser-guided GBU-12 Paveway II munition on a radar complex and another on a command complex at the airfield, officials said.

The Litening II pod provides real-time images, greatly increasing a crew's flexibility to identify targets in a continually changing battlefield environment. In addition, the pod allows the B-52 radar navigator to designate the targets and direct laser-guided weapons without having to rely on another aircraft or person on the ground to "paint" the target with a separate laser designator. (Air Force Print News)

(Master Sgt. Greg Steele, 917th AMS, Barksdale AFB, and Capt. Catie Hague, Air Force Flight Test Center Office of Public Affairs, Edwards AFB, contributed to this article.)
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Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:1279
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