Military Aviation

US Navy Super Hornet makes first flight with Litening targeting pod. The Litening will replace the ATFLIR legacy targeting pods on the F/A-18 fleet.

Northrop Grumman’s Litening advanced targeting pod has successfully completed its first test flights on the US Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Northrop Grumman’s Litening advanced targeting pod has successfully completed its first test flights on the US Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet. The service selected the Litening to replace the Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) legacy targeting pods on the F/A-18 fleet in early 2022.

“This first flight demonstrated Litening’s ability to rapidly add modern, upgradeable mission capabilities to the Super Hornet,” said James Conroy, vice president, navigation, targeting and survivability, Northrop Grumman, in a company news release. “The pod’s digital video, autonomous target tracking, and laser sensors will give Naval aviators an entirely new set of capabilities for operations over land and sea today, and the growth capabilities built into Litening’s modular design ensure that the pod can evolve to meet changing requirements.”

During the flight, pilots executed maneuvers and operations representative of combat missions, including ground moving target tracking, air-to-air tracking and target designation. The pilots also engaged the eye-safe training laser mode that allows the pod to be used for realistic training with combat controllers on the ground. The pilots were able to carry out these operations without advance training, showing the ease of use that has been made possible by close collaboration with the aviation community.

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The Litening is currently in service with the Marine Corps, Air Force, Air National Guard and international customers. Northrop Grumman has delivered more than 900 LITENING pods.

The AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR is a multi-sensor, electro-optical targeting pod incorporating thermographic camera, low-light television camera, target laser rangefinder/laser designator, and laser spot tracker developed and manufactured by Raytheon. It is used to provide navigation and targeting for military aircraft in adverse weather and using precision-guided munitions such as laser-guided bombs. It is intended to replace the earlier AN/AAS-38 Nite Hawk pod in US Navy service.

ATFLIR is 72 in (183 cm) long, weighs 420 lb (191 kg), and has a slant range of 40 mi (64.3 km), said to be useful at altitude of up to 50,000 ft (15,240 m). It has fewer parts than many previous systems, which is intended to improve serviceability (although early examples, in service with VFA-115 ‘Eagles’ in 2003 experienced problems). Crews indicate that it offers much greater target resolution and image accuracy than previous systems.

ATFLIR is used only by the US Navy on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and was used by the earlier F/A-18C/D and with US Marine Corps F/A-18Cs when they deployed onboard aircraft carriers. It is normally carried on one of the fuselage hardpoints otherwise used for AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. 410 pods were delivered to the US Navy. Pods have also been delivered to Switzerland and Australia.

Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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