They’ve been called the roaming linebackers in the skies above Iraq and Afghanistan. When ground troops need support, the B-1 Lancer drops bombs or thunders overhead at supersonic speeds.
Originally designed to fly intercontinental bombing campaigns in a nuclear showdown, the bomber now is flying alongside its fighter jet brethren conducting close-air support missions.
To improve the crews’ abilities to see the ground, the aircraft are being upgraded with the Sniper advanced targeting pod.
With infrared sensors, video and laser designation capability, the technology is a vast improvement over the aircraft’s current radar, says Lt. Col. Jim Pryor, commander of the 34th Bomb Squadron, based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.
Crews currently use radar to view the ground in half-mile wide swaths on a 6-inch by 6-inch screen display. A road looks like a dark snaking trench and vehicles appear as bright moving dots, he says.
“With the Sniper pod, not only will I be able to see the road and the vehicle, but I also can tell you what kind of vehicle it is, how many people are in it, and if it’s a pickup truck, whether it has anything in the back of it,” says Pryor.
The B-1 pilot says the imagery quality exceeds that of feeds coming off of drones, like the Predator.
During the squadron’s deployment last year, ground commanders routinely would ask the crews to look at moving vehicles near the unit’s location. Using the radar and a ground-moving indicator, the crews would warn ground forces of any vehicles approaching them.
When the squadron returns on deployment later this year, crews using the targeting pod will be able to distinguish individuals in the area, says Pryor.
“It will be a huge technology jump for what we’re doing,” he says.
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