Paris Air Show

Litening and RecceLite Gain SAR Capability

 - June 18, 2019, 5:30 AM
Rafael’s Litening and RecceLite targeting and reconnaissance pods have a free slot in their electronics bay for additional systems, here filled by an Elta synthetic aperture radar (in yellow), with the associated antenna mounted on the inside of the bay door, also in yellow. (Photo Mark Wagner)

Rafael is displaying the latest versions of its Litening targeting pod and related RecceLite ISR pod, both of which are being shown with an Elta synthetic aperture radar (SAR) added this week at the Paris Air Show. SAR can produce reconnaissance imagery in any weather, and can also be used to cue the pod’s highly sensitive electro-optical (EO) sensors.

The phased-array antenna for the SAR is mounted on the door to the pod’s avionics bay, while the associated electronics are located in an empty slot in the bay that has been created by the miniaturization of the pod’s existing systems. This empty space could also be used for alternative add-on systems, such as those for electronic intelligence-gathering or communications. The SAR and other systems can be incorporated into existing Litening 5 pods.

Its latest Litening 5 pod marks a move away from being a dedicated laser designation system to one that can also provide targeting from long standoff distances for GPS- and EO-guided weapons. This reflects the range limitations imposed on laser guidance caused by the growing diffusion of the laser designation spot as range increases.

Rafael (Static display A8) has developed advanced algorithms that can extract highly accurate coordinates from the pod’s electro-optic imagery to provide guidance to GPS weapons, and also for those—such as the company’s Spice 250—that use inertial midcourse guidance and EO guidance with automatic target recognition in the terminal phase. Recent combat experience in the Middle East has shown that GPS can no longer be relied upon for weapons guidance.

The Litening 5 can track and designate for multiple targets, and also introduces a color CCD camera in place of the earlier monochrome unit, a move that reflects the greater adoption of color cockpit displays in tactical aircraft. It also has a large-aperture forward-looking/shortwave infrared (FLIR/SWIR) sensor.

Using the same basic pod structure as the Litening, the RecceLite employs similar FLIR/SWIR optics as the targeting pod, but has a different day camera operating in both color (RGB) and near-infrared (NIR) channels, the latter offering better atmospheric performance and better discrimination between man-made and natural objects of similar visual color.

While Litening is essentially a video-based system operated by the pilot, RecceLite is a “step and stare” system recording fixed frames at up to 120 Hz. In normal operation, the pod is programmed before flight to perform a variety of missions simultaneously, ranging from standoff reconnaissance to tactical missions. The pod performs its missions autonomously, requiring no input from the pilot, although onboard control is available if needed in certain operational scenarios.

RecceLite has a dual-band datalink antenna underneath, which transmits gathered imagery in real-time to a ground station for exploitation. The system includes advanced stitching capability that can build wide-area images from a mosaic of individual frames.

A Ku-band link transmits over ranges of several hundreds of kilometers, while a C-band link can transmit tactical imagery down to forces on the ground. The two-way links allow the pod’s mission to be reprogrammed from the ground station while in flight.