Rafael is extending its Litening family of targeting pods for air forces looking to upgrade existing platforms.

Litening 4, the latest variant of the pod, has gone through major enhancements in sensors, resolution, image processing and algorithmic processing capabilities. “Litening has transformed from a targeting pod into a much broader sensor pack that extends the aircraft and pilot’s capabilities, far beyond target acquisition,” says Yuval Miller, manager of Rafael’s Air and C4ISR division.

The new version extends the effective observation range, enabling detection and recognition of targets from tens of kilometers away. “The [sensor’s] high resolution enables pilots to reliably identify the combat objects and consequently to avoid collateral damage” Miller told Aviation Week, noting the pod has a proven operational combat record in day, night and adverse weather conditions.

Many automated processes previously employed only in ultra-sophisticated reconnaissance systems are now implemented in the Litening, enabling fighter pilots to assume missions and capabilities far beyond lasing a target for smart weapons. In addition to ground attack the pod also assists pilots in the identification of aerial targets from Beyond Visual (BV) ranges.

According to Miller, there are more than 1,200 Litening units in worldwide service, making it the most widely used targeting pod, accounting for about half of the international inventory.

“The fact that these pods are upgradable means customers are investing in a ‘future proof’ system,” Miller says. Operators using Litening 3 can upgrade to Litening 4 by changing or adding plug-in hardware elements and associated software modifications. The pod, its interfaces and physical and aerodynamic envelope are maintained intact, enabling an affordable upgrade into new capabilities.

Operators of earlier Litening pods are upgrading their existing pods to the Litening 4 level. According to Miller, the British Royal Air Force is considering an upgrade from Litening 3 to Litening 4 on its Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft.

Last year Rafael won a major contract to supply Litening 4 pods to the Indian air force (IAF), which operates more than 100 earlier-vintage Litening units. The IAF already is operating Litening pods with Su-30, MiG-29, Mirage 2000, Jaguar and Tejas.

Litening also has become an essential part of the Swedish Gripen fighter, supporting a number of users including the new Thai air force. The new Litening 4 is positioned as the targeting pod for the next-generation Gripen NG (also known as Gripen E), recently selected by the Swedish, Brazilian and Swiss air forces.

“We were very pleased to hear the news from Brazil,” Miller says, adding that Gripen E with the Litening 4 offers a cost-effective solution for customers seeking an affordable platform that delivers high operational flexibility. “These air forces have excellent reasons to buy the Gripen with our pod,” Miller said.

As one of the early program partners on Gripen, Rafael has tailored the Litening IV for this fighter. The pod has already flown on the Gripen NG technology demonstrator and is likely to become part of a future capability considered for the Gripen in Brazil, where the Brazilian air force will be able to leverage its existing Litening pods. Switzerland, which already selected the new Swedish fighter, is also likely to seek a similar solution including the Litening and its sibling the Reccelite reconnaissance pod.