B-52 dons new upgrade
by 2nd Lt. Tony Wickman
Air Force Flight Test Center Public Affairs
04/09/03 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFPN) -- Aircrews flying the Air Force's oldest aircraft can now better verify targets and pick them themselves thanks to experts integrating a targeting pod on the B-52 Stratofortress.
Maj. Keith Colmer, one of the original operational test pilots here for the Litening II targeting pod that was developed for fighters in 1990s, recently traveled to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to fit it to the B-52. He called it no small order considering this was the first time a targeting pod has been installed on a B-52.
"The concept was to turn out a combat capability that wasn't there before," said Colmer. "It included integrating the targeting pod on the aircraft, conducting the test and evaluation and finally training the aircrews and maintainers on the use and care of the pod."
Integrating the targeting pod, originally scheduled for June, was accelerated to improve the B-52's ability to drop laser-guided munitions in operations around the world.
The B-52 community and Air Combat Command officials were interested in the Litening II pod for a couple of reasons, according to Colmer.
"One of the biggest reasons was target verification," Colmer said. "Adding the targeting pod will allow B-52 crews to identify targets before releasing their munitions, preventing potential fratricides and improving combat effectiveness."
B-52 crews currently use forward air controllers or predetermined coordinates to target objects. With human error possible in either case, Colmer said, the Litening II targeting pod will allow aircrews to look at what they are targeting before releasing their munitions.
According to Mo Kalhor, an engineer in the B-52 system program office engineer at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., the pod will greatly enhance the B-52's capabilities.
"The Litening II pod provides the B-52 with 'self-lasing' capability for laser-guided bomb deliveries, eliminating the need for other sources to 'lase' the target for them," said Kalhor. "It will also allow for targets to be identified (and) verified and coordinates generated before delivering the numerous types of weapons the B-52 employs. It's a tremendous capability for the aircraft."
The other big reason for the push was to give the B-52 crews the capability to pick targets for themselves.
"ACC and the (people in the Central Command area of responsibility) wanted to know if a B-52 could use the Litening II to self-designate their own targets," said Colmer. "They also wanted to see if the pod could derive coordinates for inertial-aided munitions like the joint direct attack munition.
"As you get better and better sensors, you are able to reduce target location error," he said. "That was part of this test, to determine if the coordinates generated by the B-52 using the Litening II pod could reduce the TLE to something useable. Once you have that, you have the opportunity to target buildings, a tank or a truck."
Kalhor said the pod will allow the B-52 to conduct battle damage assessment by recording video of munition drops, allowing experts to analyze how and where the bombs hit.
The test was an operational utility evaluation conducted by Air Reserve Command's 93rd Bomb Squadron and the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Test Center in Tucson, Ariz. B-52 operational testers from the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Barksdale AFB also participated in the test, providing aircraft instrumentation, data analysis and two weapons systems operators for the test and training.
According to Kalhor, the test included six sorties that took less than a month to accomplish, a major feat for the project.
"Some of the issues we had to deal with were funding, getting support from various organizations and receiving approval from the appropriate agencies to conduct the test," said Kalhor. "Once the project started, we had some technical issues we overcame, including aircraft power availability for pod usage, conducting electromagnetic interference testing with a laser inside a hangar, etc."
The interesting thing about the test, said Colmer, was that the 93rd BS from Barksdale did most of the work on the test, but they are not normally testers.
"They called for experts to come out and verify their work," Colmer said. "Some of the things we looked at were integrating the pod onto the airframe, working out some software issues and training the crews to use the system."
The test team had to contend with continuous deployments of the B-52 crews from Barksdale, as real-world taskings came in for B-52 assets.
A positive aspect that helped testing was that none of the tactics used were different from those B-52 crews already use, Colmer said.
"Once they learned how to operate the pod to track the target and use the laser, they were able to visually identify the target and designate laser-guided weapons," said Colmer. "We didn't have to change how they flew or maneuvered the aircraft, which was great because when you're trying to conduct a rapid combat test, you try to change as little as possible." (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)
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