Military Aviation

USAF proved that an F-15 and an F-16, both equipped with the Legion Pod, can use the pod’s IRST21 infrared sensor to passively triangulate target position

An F-15C Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, both equipped with Lockheed Martin’s Legion Pod, used the IRST21 infrared sensor to detect a target.

Eglin’s Integrated Test Team conducted the first-ever multi-platform operational test to effectively locate a target using shared Infra-Red Search and Track sensor data, Apr. 7, 2022.

As told by 1st Lt Lindsey Heflin, 53rd Wing, in the article Test team proves Legion pod targeting capabilities, an F-15C Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, both equipped with Lockheed Martin’s Legion Pod, used the IRST21 infrared sensor to detect a target. The aircraft were then able to share that sensor data over the Legion pod’s Advanced Datalink to passively triangulate target position without the use of radar or other active ranging sources.

“IRST technology provides a key enabler in the long-range kill chain as well as the ability to locate targets in a multispectral domain,” said Lt Col. Jeremy Castor, Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force F-16 sensors program manager. “Any large-force scenario includes multiple aircraft types, each with different viewpoints of the battlespace. The ability to share data provides information to the warfighter they would not be able to get otherwise.”

The Legion Pod’s common interface allows integration onto any aircraft with minimal to no impact on the aircraft’s core software. This versatility opens the door for integration with minimal effort onto other fighter aircraft like the Air Force’s newest fighter, F-15EX.

“Our next step will be to explore the operationally relevant capabilities that IRST with an advanced datalink provides the warfighter,” said Castor. “The eventual goal is to provide this capability to anyone carrying an ADL Legion pod, regardless of platform.”

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The first successful two-ship F-15 IRST ADL test occurred at Northern Edge in April 2021. The first successful two-ship F-16 IRST ADL test occurred December 2021 here. The successful completion of this F-15/F-16 test Apr. 7 marks a milestone event in the program’s ongoing progress.

The two-week combined test team event was led by a collaborative effort between the OFP CTF, the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, the 40th Flight Test Squadron, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, and the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center F-15C Eagle Division.

The US Air Force (USAF) reached initial operating capability (IOC) on Legion Pod integrated on the F-15C Eagle, on Jan. 21, 2022.

The Legion Pod is projected to reach full operational capability later this year as the remaining contracted pods are delivered to tactical F-15C squadrons.

In 2017, Legion Pod was selected as the Infrared Search and Track system for the US Air Force’s F-15C fleet. Transportable between platforms, future expansion plans for Legion Pod include the F-15E, F-16, as well as unmanned systems. Flexible by design and production-ready, Legion Pod is set to serve as the next sensor system of choice for fixed-wing aircraft.

The pod is mounted on the centreline of the F-15 – mirroring what the Super Hornet Block III is doing – and the IRST21 long-wave infrared sensor being used is the same as the Navy version.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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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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