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What are Sniper Pods: Exploring the Precision and Versatility of Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod

What are Sniper Pods: Exploring the Precision and Versatility of Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod

Sniper pods, officially called Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods (ATP), are the United States’ solution to improve battlespace networks amid rapidly evolving defense domains. They are developed as key players in joint all-domain command and control to enhance the data-sharing capabilities between legacy aircraft and fifth-generation fighters.


Sniper pods are the epitome of precision and versatility for 21st-century security. Explore the features, functions, design, and operability of the Sniper ATP.


What are Sniper Pods?


Superior targeting capability of Sniper ATP
Photo/ Lockheed Martin


Sniper pods are one of the most widely fielded and combat-proven targeting pods of the U.S. Air Force. They are electro-optical targeting systems, delivering intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and precision targeting to the most challenging air-to-air and air-to-ground missions across multi-domains.


Sniper pods equip the Air Force’s aircraft fleet with long-range target detection, autonomous tracking, GPS, stabilized surveillance, and weapons guidance. These capabilities allow airmen to detect and identify threats and respond to them with rapid target decisions.


What Sniper Pods Do: Design and Features


As a combat-proven targeting pod, Sniper ATP provides the United States with state-of-the-art aircraft sensor features that detect and deter various threats. The superior precision targeting capability of sniper pods is also deployed by 27 international customers.


Sniper pods’ best designs and features include:


  • Primary function: Positive identification, automatic tracking, and laser designation
  • Length: 98.2 inches (252 centimeters)
  • Diameter: 11.9 inches (30.5 centimeters)
  • Weight: 446 lbs (202 kilograms)
  • Aircraft interoperability: F-2, F-15E, F-16, B-1, B-52, A-10C, Harrier GR7/9, and CF-18
  • Sensors: High-resolution FLIR and HDTV, dual-mode laser designator, laser spot tracker, and laser marker


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How Sniper Pods Work


Integrating Lockheed Martin's Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod
Photo/ EDR Magazine


Sniper ATP is a considerable upgrade to its predecessors, with more modern capabilities and a better aerodynamic design to reduce drag. One of the most significant parts of the sniper pods is its sensors that enable automatic tracking and laser designation. 


Here’s a preview of how a sniper pod’s roster of sensors works together.


  1. Sniper pods use a range of sensors to generate advanced processing algorithms to track targets automatically.
  2. Rock-steady stabilization enables accurate images to show on cockpit displays.
  3. Compatibility with J-series munitions empowers laser precision of weapons against multiple moving and fixed targets.


Additionally, Sniper ATP modular architectures allow for two-level maintenance, significantly reducing intermediate-level support. Line replaceable units (LRU) can be isolated and replaced in under 20 minutes through its automated built-in test flightline maintainers.


Why Sniper ATP was developed


The U.S. Air Force sought to equip its fleet of F-16 and F-15E with an advanced targeting pod (ATP) and other related equipment. The active-duty Air Force and Air National Guard were meant to use ATP in their global operations.


In August 2001, Lockheed Martin’s Sniper won the ATP competition. The contractor was awarded an initial seven-year contract for Sniper ATP with a potential value of $843 million. At least 522 Sniper ATPs were procured by the Air Force, with over 125 sniper pods delivered.


2024 Air Force Summit by the Potomac Officers Club


Sniper pods debuted on a F-15E through an overseas deployment in 2005.


Development of Sniper ATP-SE


The U.S. Air Force announced a follow-on contract for Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod–Sensor Enhancement (ATP-SE) in 2010. Lockheed Martin received 60% of the contract, while the other 40% was awarded to LITENING. The USAF announced Sniper ATP-SE’s initial operational capability in 2014.


Sniper ATP-SE offers even better design upgrades with enhanced sensors, advanced processors, and automated NTISR modes. These upgrades meet the fourth and fifth-generation targeting requirements, offering the U.S. Air Force and international customers enhanced precision targeting capabilities.


What are Sniper Pods Today: Testament of Precision and Versatility


Displaying the air superiority of the U.S. Air Force
Photo by Luis Jimenez/ U.S. Air Force


Since their initial deployment, sniper pods have showcased their precision and versatility. Its amalgamation of sensors has proven superior not only for the Air Force’s aircraft but also for:


  • British Harrier GR9
  • Canadian CF-18 Hornet
  • Eurofighter Typhoon
  • Tornado GR4 combat aircraft


On the other hand, Sniper ATP demonstrates its versatility by retrofitting it beyond its initial development for the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15E Strike Eagle. It can now be used on B-1B Lancer and A-10 Thunderbolt II. More importantly, sniper pods are integrated into the B-52H Stratofortress, the air-based leg of the nuclear triad.


However, Sniper ATPs are not without controversy. In 2014, it resulted in the demise of five Americans and one Afghan due to a faulty pod in a B-1B bomber. The sniper pod wasn’t able to detect the infrared strobe lights on the helmets of U.S. troops during a firefight. This became the deadliest case of friendly fire during the Afghanistan War.


Despite a few setbacks, sniper pods have gained a reputation as a combat-proven targeting pod today. Over 1,500 pods have been delivered worldwide and are still counting.


Know more about the current projects, changes, and goals of the Air Force community. Register early for the 2024 Air Force Summit in July 2024. 

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