After years of supporting coalition forces fighting terror in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan, European air forces are facing more capable adversaries, reducing the “overmatch” assurance they enjoyed in the past – capabilities that once allowed stand-in operations, with free roaming of enemy airspace at high and even medium altitudes.

European militaries are turning now to still-scarce stealth platforms, and dedicated assets for intelligence, targeting and battle damage assessment. Real-time information is no longer a luxury. Attack missions are increasingly limited to standoff ranges, as operators of both manned and unmanned aircraft seek to avoid missile-protected areas, often flying lower and faster, but then becoming vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles and gunfire.

To win back the initiative, combat aircraft are being equipped with sensors and avionics extending their operation beyond the range of enemy defenses. Typical systems addressing this gap are the Litening 5 and RecceLite XR targeting and reconnaissance pods from Israel’s Rafael (Chalet B15). In the past 15 years Litening has gained a position as one of the world’s most popular targeting pods, with several generations accounting for about half of the world market. The Litening is currently used by the U.S. Combat Command, Marine Corps, and many NATO air forces, including the UK’s Royal Air Force.

The latest version being delivered to customers is Litening 5, introduced in 2016.

Litening 5 offered groundbreaking new capabilities, enabling users to extend target detection and recognition beyond 100 km, allowing them to avoid missile-defended areas. Relying on visual and various infrared sensors, the pod provides true multispectral capability, and advanced image processing that improves performance in marginal visibility conditions and reduces operator workload with process automation in target detection and tracking.

In addition to its new standoff performance, Litening improves stand-in capability, particularly against complex, low-signature adversary equipment. Customers understand this need for operational flexibility, as many of today’s conflicts are fought below the threshold of full-scale war, where attacks are launched from afar and avoid crossing international borders.

Intelligence gathering is equally important for reconnaissance and persistent surveillance of wide areas – there, Rafael’s RecceLite reconnaissance pods rule. As with Rafael’s Litening offerings, the original RecceLite supported flexible reconnaissance missions at relatively short range. The new RecceLite XR maintains the same high capacity and flexibility of the original platform, but extends its coverage to enable standoff range, performing target acquisition, gatekeeping and battle damage assessment beyond the reach of enemy air defense.

RecceLite XR is configured to operate on any aircraft that can carry a Litening pod, as well as on large drones. A new configuration called RecceLite U-XR weighs half the weight of the full version and is designed to operate MALE UAVs that carry payloads of up to a ton.