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Night combat airborne platforms ... and night vision systems that equip them.

Night Combat Airborne Platforms . . .

...and the Night Vision Systems that Equip Them

Night vision devices have now made it possible for modern armies to fight round the clock. Not all arms of the service or units, however, are endowed with an equal night vision capability. To take an example, during recent military exercises in West Germany, M1 Abrams MBT and M2 Bradley AFV-equipped US Army units had to interrupt an up till then successful night attack for lack of adequate air support and batten down until daybreak in defensive positions. The oft-quoted ability to carry out "24-hour combined arms operations" demands in the final analysis that Tactical Air Force and Army Air Corps units also possess a night-time capability to be able to give ground troops support at all times, by day as well as by night. However, the fact is that nightvision systems are expensive and in consequence in short supply.

Until not so long ago air strikes by night againts point targets - for the most part high-value permanent installations - were conducted with the help of radar and, later on, laser guidance systems for weapons. However, these needed to be supported by various aids such as radar beacons or laser target illuminators. Nowadays, with the latest developments in the field of electro-optics and thermal imagery and the fitting of combat aircraft with integrated nav-attack systems, targets can be detected and attacked autonomously round the clock and in adverse weather. In their successful strike against Libyan targets in the Tripoli and Benghazi areas in April 1986 US Air Force F-111/As and US Navy A-6E Intruders used a combination of radar, thermal imagers and laser target illuminators to carry out their strike mission.

As Air Vice-Marshall J.R. Walker CBE, AFC, RAF shows conclusively in his book "Air-to-Ground Operations", by equipping ground attack planes with a passive nav-attack system based on an inertial navigation system (INS), a FLIR and night vision goggles for the pilot, their service life can, at an affordable cost, be extended by around 65%.

The aircraft presented here are typical examples of the various airborne platforms developed over the last years in the field of night strike and ground attack operations. A brief description of the more important night vision systems and equipment used is also provided. * McDonnell Douglas/British Aerospace AV-8B and Harrier II GR.5.

A total of 96 British Aerospace Harrier II GR.5s operated by the RAF and some 100 USMC McDonnell Douglas AV.8Bs are due to receive a night attack system. Apart from the nose-mounted AN/ASB-19(V) Angle Rate Bombing System (a combined laser/TV homing and rangefinder system), this special equipment will consist of: * a GEC Avionics FLIR sensor mounted in the nose for low-level navigation and target search. * a Smith Industries wide-angle Head-Up Display (HUD) for displaying the video images of the ground ahead obtained by the FLIR sensor. In addition, on this thermal image will be superimposed the customary flight control data for low-level navigation, target acquisition and weapons delivery normally displayed on the HUD. * a Smith Industries multifunction, colour Head Down Display (HDD) for presenting a Honeywell numerical rolling-map display as well as navigational data and battlefield information. * GEC Avionics Cat's Eye night vision goggles to enable the pilot to see the terrain not covered by the FLIR in his field of vision.

The FLIR sensor and numerical rolling map display can be operated by the pilot by the "hands-on-throttle-and-stick" method. * General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The USAF designated the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon as the second platform to be equipped with the LANTIRN system (see later). All the F-16C/D Block 40 planes will be fitted with this low-level navigation, target acquisition and weapons delivery system. Deliveries to operational squadrons of the Tactical Air Command (TAC) of the US Air Force began in the first half of 1989.

In order to extend the F-16's capabilities the USAF is currently trialling a version called the A-16 as a replacement for the A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack and tank-buster, optimized for close support and battlefield interdiction operations. As part of this evaluation programme an F-16 close air support/night attack demonstrator was flown carrying the following special equipment: Cat's Eye night goggles, raster HUD, the digital TERPROM (TERain PROfile Matching) system, the ATHS (Automatic Target Hand-off System) and a navigation and target assignation pod. During one flight with the A-16 the GEC Atlantic, Martin Marietta Pathfinder, Hughes TINS, Ford NITE Owl as well as the Texas Instruments Falcon Eye systems were also evaluated. In passing it may be interesting to add a word about the capabilities of the ATHS. With its help data on the positions of ground targets reconnoitred by the ground-based or airborne Forward Air Controller are automatically exchanged by coded signal between the various combined arms users. The actual position of the target is superimposed on the HUD in the form of a rhomboid symbol which enables the pilot to attack it at high speed in his first pass. * McDonnell Douglas F-15E Eagle.

For the past few months operational squadrons of the USAF Tactical Air Command have been receiving the multi-role McDonnell Douglas F-15E Eagle. This version of the F-15 is specially optimized for all-weather area denial missions deep in the enemy rear. The first unit to be assigned the F-15E was the 336 Tactical Fighter Squadron, 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, based on Seymour AFB. By the time this article appears it should have received 24 aircraft as an initial operational reserve. Among its array of sensors the F-15E is equipped with the Hughes multi-mode AN/APG-70 radar and the low-level navigation, target search, homing and weapon delivery LANTIRN system. Test pilots report that in the Search-and-Rescue (SAR) mode the AN-APG-70 makes it possible to acquire enemy targets at a range of up to 20 km and with great accuracy, whether singly or in groups (e.g. individual tanks or convoys of vehicles) and then engage them in the first pass. In addition, by "freezing" the radar picture of the ground, the navigator or Weapon Systems Officer can search for and identify targets and then lock on to them with the LANTIRN. For budgetary reasons it is not, however, certain that the USAF will receive all of the originally planned 392 F-15Es. * McDonnell Douglas Night Attack F/A-18D.

The United States Navy and US Marine Corps squadrons operating the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 already possess the AN/AAS-38 FLIR system as a standard fit on their planes. It is shortly due to be upgraded with a laser target tracker and target illuminator. As from 1990 three operational and one reserve squadrons of the USMC are due to receive 83 F/A-18C/D Hornets specially optimized for night strikes. Its principal avionic systems include: * GEC Avionics Cat's Eye night vision goggles * the Hughes Aircraft AN/AAR-50 TINS (Thermal Imaging Navigation Set) * a Kaiser raster Head-up Display with a field of view (FOV) of 20 [degrees] * a Honeywell digital rolling map display system * a Smith Industries multi-mode Head Down Display * a specially designed cockpit lighting system. * McDonnell Douglas Helicopters AH-64 Apache.

During the last REFORGER exercise AH-64A Apache helicopters of the US Army gave an impressive display of their night-time combat capabilities. In some 750 hours of flying time, mainly by night and in adverse weather conditions, 40 Apaches, operating as a component of the US Air-Land Battle 2000 doctrine, carried out a number of close air support missions in the rear of the simulated enemy lines. Up to now McDonnell Douglas has delivered approximately 500 out of a planned 593 Apaches to the US Army. They have been deployed in operational units both in the United States and West Germany. In West Germany alone the US Army is planning to deploy 14 AH-64A battalions in the coming years. For round-the-clock, low-level navigation and weapons delivery AH-64A crews possess the Martin Marietta TADS/PNVS system (see later). This enables them to acquire individual tank targets or vehicle columns at ranges of four to six kilometres and to illuminate them with their integrated laser target illuminator for engagement by their AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank guided missiles. * Panavia Tornado IDS GR.4.

The very considerable all-weather and night combat capabilities enjoyed by the Panavia Tornado (thanks to its integrated Texas Instruments multimode radar) are to be further improved so as to suit it for a wider variety of operational roles. In the context of its Staff Requirement (Air) 417 the Royal Air Force is planning a comprehensive combat enhancement programme for all its Tornado IDS (Interdiction/Strike) GR.1 versions at the beginning of the nineties. The following main modifications under the above midlife update will result in the newly configured IDS GR.4 version: * installation of a low-level night mission navigation system based on a FLIR sensor and night vision goggles. The sensor component of this passive suite is to be fitted in the forward part of the belly, near the Ferranti LRMTS (Laser Ranger and Marked Target Seeker) * a Terrain-Referenced Navigation System for highly accurate penetration of the enemy rear without having recourse to the airborne radar * new Head-Up and Head Down Displays receiving inputs, among other data, from the FLIR sensor * integration of the day/night TIALD (Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator) system * installation of a numerical rolling map display based on laser discs * installation of an offensive and defensive electronic warfare system adapted to present and future threats.

Taking part in the above combat enhancement programme are, among others, British Aerospace, GEC Avionics, Ferranti Ltd. and Smith Industries. * LTV A-7D and K LANA, and A-7F.

Since the early 1980s the US Air Force has been operating a mix of single-seat A-7Ds and two-seat A-7Ks with low-altitude night attack (LANA) capability. Basically, the LANA system is based on a FLIR pod and an automatic terrain-following system. The former forwards to the crew's Head-Up Display a night-time target picture as clearly as if it were a daylight scene. The latter system provides a link between the radar and the autopilot and thus allows the aircraft to fly virtually independently to the combat zone. Thus relieved of the tedious navigation work, the crew can concentrate on finding and destroying the target.

LTV is now concentrating on a new upgrade programme, which if it is selected against the A-16 programme, would stretch the life of the A-7 by another 20 years. Two prototypes of the new A-7F, as it is designated, are now being prepared. The fuselage has been modified to accommodate a Pratt & Whitney F-100-PW-200 engine and been stretched ahead and aft of the wing to provide space for additional avionics. The wing too has been modified. The A-7F will retain its LANA capability. * Grumman A-6.

The A-6A Intruder started life in 1963 as an all-weather strike aircraft. Subsequent models were upgraded and re-engined to allow the aircraft to carry more and more payload, to the extent that Boeing won a contract in 1985 to develop and manufacture new wings for both old and new A-6s. The latest A-6 variant (and most likely last before the A-12 is introduced) is the A-6F, which is equipped with a Norden Systems AN/APQ-148 radar confering stand-off weapon capability, a FLIR system, a number of advanced head-up CRT mapping displays and a laser designator. * TRT and Intertechnique FLIR pod.

The two companies have been working for a number of years with Dassault-Breguet on the development of a multi-role FLIR pod, mainly for use with the Mirage 2000 and Rafale. In this project Avions Marcel Dassault-Breguet Aviation are responsible for the pod as well as the integration of the FLIR with the nav-attack system, TRT is in charge of the thermal-imaging technique while Intertechnique is responsible for the processing of the thermal imager video images, inclusive the software. The 2.65 metres long pod has a diameter of 0.28 metres, weighs about 90 kg and can sustain speeds of up to Mach 1.4. * Ferranti TIALD.

Ferranti Ltd., GEC Avionics, British Aerospace and, since a short time ago, Selenia are jointly producing the day/night capable TIALD (Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator) system. The TIALD pod, of which the RAF has ordered a small number to equip its all-weather Tornado strike aircraft, enables the pilot to acquire, identify and then illuminate ground targets for subsequent attack by laser-guided air-to-ground munitions. When non-laser-guided weapons are used the TIALD system provides target range and aiming data. Thanks to an integrated, automatic video tracking unit the pilot can, immediately after target lock-on and firing his laser-guided missiles, disengage and take evasive action. Fitted with an infrared GEC Avionics thermal imager with FOVs of 3 [degrees] and 12 [degrees] respectively, the sensor head can be rotated to provide an elevation/horizontal coverage of [+ or -] 180 [degrees]. In a secondary role TIALD can also be used as a passive sensor for the acquisition and identification of aerial targets. In all modes target lock-on is effected either manually, or else with the aid of a helmet sight, the radar or radar warning system. * Ford Aerospace AN/AAS-38.

As a complement to the Martin Marietta designed LST/SCAM pod (Laser Spot Tracker/Strike CAMera) Ford Aerospace is at present producing the AN/AAS-38 FLIR pod for use with the F/A-18 Hornets operated by the US Navy and US Marine Corps. Measuring 1.8 metres in length and weighing 154 kg, the pod contains a Texas Instruments thermal imager with FOVs of 3 x 3 [degrees] and 12 x 12 [degrees]. The AN/AAS-38 interfaces with the Hornet's nav-attack system via a MILSTD-1553A Multiplex Data Bus and the mission computer. * Ford Aerospace NITE Owl.

For use with combat aircraft of the Mirage III, Tornado, F-16, etc. category Ford Aerospace and Texas Instruments have jointly developed a FLIR pod that goes by the name of NITE Owl (Navigation Infrared Targeting Equipment). The pod, which is equipped with a laser target illuminator and rangefinder, is based in fact on the AN/AAS-38 pod. The NITE Owl weighs 178 kg and measures 2.29 metres in length with a diameter of 0.33 metres. With FOVs of 3 x 3 [degrees] and 12 x 12 [degrees], the system has been trialled among others on an F-16. Of modular design, the NITE Owl consists of twelve Line Replaceable Units. * Hughes Aircraft AN/AAS-33 TRAM.

One of the first airborne platforms to receive an integrated nav-attack system based on a FLIR was the all-weather A-6E strike aircraft in service with the US Navy and USMC. Designated AN/AAS-33 TRAM (Target Recognition Attack Multi-Sensor), this Hughes Aircraft system displays a picture of the target on a multi-mode screen. The target can then be tracked and illuminated by the integrated laser rangefinder and target illuminator for attack by laser-guided munitions. The TRAM's sensor and laser subsystem are housed in a turret installed under the nose. * Hughes Aircraft AN/AAR-50 TINS.

Since last May Hughes Aircraft has been delivering its Thermal Imaging Navigation System (TINS) to McDonnell Douglas for installation on the F/A-18 Hornet. Carried under the starboard engine air intake fairing, the AN/AAR-50 pod weighs about 80 kg and is 1.98 metres long. The integrated FLIR presents a TV-like image of the ground ahead on the Head-Up Display, by day as well as by night and in adverse weather. Its FOV is in the order of 20 [degrees] x 20 [degrees]. For use with other platforms the TINS can be installed in other pod configurations or carried internally. * Hughes Aircraft Rapid Fire.

A Hughes Aircraft-designed target search and automatic lock-on system for air-to-ground weapons bids fair to revolutionize use of the heat-seeking version of the AGM-65 Maverick family of missiles. Called Rapid Fire, the system utilises the images taken in flight by the AGM-65/F/G IR homing head for the purpose of target search, using certain reference data as a basis for target extraction e.g. shape and dimensions, etc. According to the manufacturer Rapid Fire is able to present the pilot on his display with up to six possible targets and, as an aid to decision-making, to recommend the order in which they should be attacked based on the threat they pose. The pilot can then immediately engage them singly or collectively with his Mavericks. Rapid Fire enables four Mavericks to be launched simultaneously in the time it normally takes to fire a single missile. * Martin Marietta TADS/PNVS.

For low-level navigation and weapons delivery Martin Marietta has developed for the AH-64A Apache a visionic system called Target Acquisition and Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor. Fitted in the nose and slaved to the movements of the pilot's or gunner's helmet, it comprises the following two elements: * the AN/AAQ-12 TADS, a turreted sensor pack designed for target acquisition, range-finding and target illumination for the use of laser-guided missiles, in particular the AGM-114 Hellfire. TADS consists of an optical sight, a TV camera, a thermal imager, a laser rangefinder and laser target illuminator. * the AN/AAQ-11 PNVS sensor, mounted above the TADS, a thermal sensor designed as an aid to round-the-clock, low-level navigation. The image of the ground ahead provided by this FLIR is displayed together with other data on the pilot's helmet visor serving as a display unit. Martin Marietta has so far delivered 500 of these systems for the US Army's Apaches. The Army has ordered 613 units and negotiations are in progress regarding possible export orders. * Martin Marietta LANTIRN.

For equipping its F-15E Eagle and F-16C/D Fighting Falcons the US Air Force entrusted Martin Marietta with the production of the Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared System for Night. By end of 1993 the USAF intends to procure 702 of these systems. Made up of the AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod and the AN/AAQ-14 target designator, LANTIRN enables the pilot to acquire ground targets by day and by night and in adverse weather and to attack them in his first pass.

In the course of a development and operational evaluation programme lasting since 1983 (covering about 555000 km in over 2500 flying hours, of which half by night), test pilots have flown a fully integrated combined F-16C/D-cum-LANTIRN weapon system at speeds of up to 1000 km/h in nap-of-the-earth profile only 30 metres above the ground. In one of these missions a LANTIRN-equipped F-16 flew without pilot assistance and solely on instruments a mere 300 metres above ground in continuous terrain-following mode for a period of 47 minutes.

The AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod comprises a thermal sensor for low-level flight, a contour-matching radar and a computer. The AN/AAQ-14 target designator pod enables the pilot to acquire targets from a stand-off distance and to launch conventional air-to-ground munitions and laser-guided bombs. For this purpose it has a laser illuminator and rangefinder, a computer, a dual-mode tracking unit and an automatic target lock-on system for electro-optically-guided weapons. LANTIRN makes it possible for instance to launch two heat-seeking AGM-65/F/G Mavericks against their target in a single approach. The first production navigation pod was delivered to the US Air Force in May 1987. Deliveries of the production target designator pods commenced in July 1988 and the first Field Support System was handed over to the US Air Force in February 1989. Martin Marietta is planning to increase the production rates for the AN/AAQ-13 until November 1990 and for the AN/AAQ-14 until July 1991 to 20 units per month. A modified version of LANTIRN is also being planned for installation on the B-1B swing-wing strategic bomber. * Martin Marietta Pathfinder.

Based on its experiences with the LANTIRN, Martin Marietta has developed an inexpensive FLIR system called Pathfinder. The system, which Egypt has decided to purchase (for its F-16s), can be fitted into a 1.98 metres-long pod (total weight: 84 kg) or mounted on an underwing pylon. The swivelling FLIR sensor has two fields of view - one of 28 [degrees] x 21 [degrees] for navigation, and one of 9 [degrees] x 7 [degrees] for target acquisition, identification and weapons delivery - and provides an infrared image of the terrain ahead. Martin Marietta has up to now produced two prototype Pathfinder systems which have been tested with an A-7 Corsair and an F-16. * Rafael Litening.

The Israeli firm Rafael has developed a low-cost, modular FLIR pod for low-level navigation. Designed with the assistance of the Israeli Air Force, the pod is, according to its manufacturer, suitable for use on both combat aircraft and helicopters. The Litening features a gimballed sensor head and a FLIR camera stabilized on all four axes, an interface unit compatible with a MIL-STD-1553B data bus, and line-replaceable modules. * Texas Instruments Falcon Eye.

General Dynamics and Texas Instruments are currently trialling aboard an F-16a FLIR sensor mounted in the nose just forward of the cockpit and slaved to the movements of the pilot's head. For nav-attack purposes the data acquired by Falcon Eye are presented to the pilot on a helmet-mounted display unit. The system, which has been optimized for close air support and battlefield interdiction missions, is not in any way a competitor of LANTIRN. The stabilized sensor has two FOVs - of 22.5 [degrees] x 30 [degrees] (1:1 magnification) and of 4 [degrees] x 5.4 [degrees] (5.6:1 magnification). Falcon Eye has an elevation range of [+] 60 [degrees] to - 20 [degrees] and a horizontal coverage of [+ or -] 150 [degrees]. Future versions are to be voice-controlled by the pilot and will in addition be equipped with a [CO.sup.2] laser. * Thomson-CSF ATLIS CLDP.

Thomson-CSF is currently producing a CLDP version of the well-proven ATLIS laser weapon delivery system which will have an exchangeable FLIR sensor. The system has already been tested with conspicuous success at night in combination with the air-to-ground AS-30 laser-guided missile against naval and ground targets at distances of up to about 8 km. Designed for use on single-seater combat planes, the ATLIS pod, which according to well-informed sources is in service with the Egyptian, Iraki and Pakistan air forces, apart from the French Armee de l'Air, comprises inter alia an automatic target tracker, a laser rangefinder and laser target illuminator. The 2.54 metres-long and 160 kg ATLIS pod equips the French FATAC (Forces de l'Air Tactiques) Jaguar ground attack plane and in future is also due to be installed on the NP version of the Mirage 2000 which is optimized for tactical ground attack missions.

PHOTO : The F-16 LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting InfraRed for Night) system

PHOTO : consists of a navigation pod and target designation pod fixed under the air intake

PHOTO : fairing.

PHOTO : TV image of ground ahead as presented to the pilot on his Head-Up Display by the FLIR

PHOTO : sensor.

PHOTO : The US Navy and USMC Ford Aerospace AN/AAS-38 FLIR pod is to be upgraded with a laser

PHOTO : target illuminator.

PHOTO : 78 of these A-7D/K Corsair II LANA (Low Altitude Night Attack) aircraft are in service

PHOTO : with squadrons of the US National Guard.

PHOTO : The RAF and US Marine Corps are due to receive V/STOL Harrier aircraft fittedwith a night

PHOTO : navigation and attack system called Cheap Night.

PHOTO : Mock-up of the TRT and Intertechnique FLIR pod currently being developed in cooperation

PHOTO : with Dassault-Breguet for the Mirage 2000 and the Rafale.

PHOTO : The thermal-imaging TIALD pod is attracting interest from the Aeronautica Italiana for its

PHOTO : Tornado and AMX aircraft.

PHOTO : The Hughes Aircraft AN/AAR-50 TINS pod is now in production for installation on the

PHOTO : McDonnell Douglas F/A-18.

PHOTO : LANTIRN pictures seen by the pilot on his Head-Up Display or on his Head-Down CRT display.

PHOTO : A new FLIR sensor developed by Texas Instruments mounted on the nose of the F-16 ahead of

PHOTO : the canopy and slaved to the pilot's head movements is being tested.

PHOTO : The Litening was jointly designed by Rafael and the IAF as a modular FLIR pod for aircraft

PHOTO : and helicopters.

PHOTO : The LANTIRN-based Pathfinder (here a mock-up under an A-7) will eventually equip the

PHOTO : Egyptian Air Force's F-16s.

PHOTO : Thomson-CSF's new CLDP derivative of ATLIS has an exchangeable night-capable sensor.
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Author:Alder, Konrad
Publication:Armada International
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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