Paris 2011: Rafael celebrates Litening pod success; shows new version here
Rafael is promoting a new version of the very successful Litening pod here at Paris, after celebrating the 1,000th sale of this targeting and navigation system. It has also developed a multi-sensor ground station from one that it previously built to handle imagery from the Rafael Reccelite reconnaissance pod.
First produced in 1992, Litening pods have been sold to 26 countries and integrated on some 22 different aircraft, mostly fighters but also the U.S. Air Force’s mighty B-52. With its third-generation FLIR, improved CCD sensor for the visible spectrum, electronic image stabilization and dual-wavelength laser, the Litening III offered a step-change in capability when it became available five years ago. Rafael claims that the Litening was the first pod to incorporate a FLIR sensor with a special wide-field-of-view to provide a display on the pilot’s HUD to enable low-level navigation at night. The system can also provide air-to-air capability by detecting targets at beyond visual range.
Northrop Grumman provided the FLIR and has been a major partner on the Litening. The U.S. market and FMS sales account for more than half of all sales. Other partners are Zeiss in Germany, and Ultra Electronics of the UK, which has provided an alternative narrowband datalink to one designed by the Israelis. Imagery from the Litening III over Iraq and Afghanistan has been downlinked directly to forward air controllers for target verification and direction.
Next Up: Litening IV
Now comes the Litening IV, in which the sensors have improved range and accuracy, according to Haim Jacobovitz, vice president and general manager for Rafael’s NCW sector. Also, he told AIN, image-matching and processing has been added within the pod, which provides additional functionality, such as missile launch detection. The Litening IV pod’s external dimensions are unchanged. The new version is already in production for the Israeli air force and has been offered to India, Jacobovitz added.
The use of the Litening III and similar, competing pods in a non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (NTISR) role has been well publicized. Fighters patrolling over Afghanistan have provided overwatch for convoys and helped to detect IEDs.
Jacobovitz does not discount the pod’s value in this application, but he is keen to tout the merits of the dedicated recce pod that Rafael developed from the Litening. This is the RecceLite, which offers advantages such as geo-referencing and a wideband datalink that allows for image processing on the ground. “A number of our Litening III customers–including Germany, the Netherlands, India and Spain–have additionally bought RecceLite,” he noted.
The eight customers for RecceLite also bought Rafael’s ground station. Now this has been further developed to receive, process and exploit imagery from other sensors. The Imilite system can handle video and SAR/GMTI radar imagery, as well as EO/IR imagery, on one desktop. “We’ve spent a huge amount on image processing because there is so much value to be added there and nobody was really doing fusion,” Jacobovitz said.
The Imilite system can combine nonimagery data such as targets, threats, COMINT detection and mission status within the operator’s workflow. It can generate a variety of standard and tailored reports, including annotated maps, data overlays from geo-spatial intelligence systems and visual aids. The German air force has bought and deployed the Imilite system to Afghanistan, where it is processing multiple imagery feeds from the Tornado and the Heron UAV.