The war in Ukraine has spurred a new wave of interest among NATO air forces. Until 25 years ago, targeting pods on fighter aircraft were considered a luxury of air forces serving in countries with big defense budgets. These systems are now a baseline in almost any fleet of fighter aircraft that is really preparing for combat. The demand stems mainly from the need of air forces to operate in what is referred to as asymmetric warfare or, in plain words, actions against terrorists. Recent surveys point to an operational need for different versions of targeting pods that can be carried by a variety of aircraft and unmanned systems. Now these systems have become crucial to every combat mission, and as the importance grew, the demand soared, as did the competition between the main manufacturers.
The Israeli Air Force was one of the first to use targeting pods. First, these were the ones that were supplied with the American-made fighter aircraft that Israel purchased, but at some point, the locally made ones proved their superiority. In a parallel process, foreign air forces discovered the capabilities of the Rafael Litening targeting pod, and sales increased. The new technologies, combined with the operational experience of the Israeli Air Force, resulted in the steady process of upgrading the Rafael system. So after some upgrades to existing versions, Rafael offered the market its Litening 5 targeting pod, the latest version. The new version has a large aperture color CCD sensor that will enable the detection of targets at very long ranges. The IR sensor is also an improved type.
According to Rafael, the new version is not only a targeting pod but has actually become an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) system. Rafael has not changed the pod’s dimensions and form to make it easy to deploy on different types of aircraft. Litening pods have logged over 2 million flying hours, with more than two-thirds in contingency operations worldwide. Flying with 27 Air Forces and on 25 types of aircraft, Litening is being used worldwide by the USA, NATO, and many additional countries. The miniaturization of some of the components has left two empty spaces in the pod, and that allows each customer to use it for dedicated, in many cases classified, features.