If we look at our fighter aircraft, but only them, bombers, CAS etc. they have certain capabilities when they roll out of the production line.
As time passes and technology moves forward they become more and more obsolete. It’s not the designers or manufacturers fault. That is just how things are. It’s called development. Of course at some point we apply a MLU for our aircraft just to keep them in the major league. Sometimes this is not enough. Sometimes we have to push their capabilities even further and when the air frame can’t accommodate more systems we use pods.
MLU gives us an option to make our aircraft “pod ready” – prepare the wiring and the on board software for the pods. Today’s systems are developed with a “plug-and-play” capability in mind so when the aircraft is ready for them it is much easier to accommodate the new systems.
Slowly pods have become a reality on our aircraft. A reality and a necessity. You can hardly see any modern aircraft without them. Of course we have the F-22 and F-35 but they both play in a different league. The 4th generation fighters all carry some sort of pods.
I don’t have to look too far. Polish F-16 have 2 types of pods:
– AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER/PANTERA
– DB-110 Goodrich
They push the jets capabilities significantly. But Polish F-16 aren’t that young. We have recently celebrated 10 years of their service.
Let’s than have a look at the latest an greatest when it comes to the 4th gen fighter – the F-15SA:
– AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER
– Tiger Eyes IRST
That is a lot of pods. If you look from the front of the aircraft they are stacked one on another. It’s easier to mount them outside than to fit them somewhere inside – all of the precious place in modern aircraft is already used for the essential equipment and modules which were developed alongside the aircraft development. Now we can only remove one module and replace it with a newer one with extended capabilities. Pods allow us to multiply the striking force of our fleet without digging too deep into the aircraft structure.
Manufacturers are on a constant development path and Northrop Grumman has shown a new capability with it’s OpenPod system. Basically it allows us to have two pods in one and the transition from one to another is done easily by one person (with a little help of some tools and additional equipment – pods are heavy) and it takes just minutes to do it. This means that our fighter can be easily transformed from air-to-air missions with IRST capability to air-to-ground with a suite of advance targeting sensors.
Boeing has something different for it’s Super Hornets – a “tank- pod” which is basically the center fuel tank with an added IRST capability. This way we do not lose a hard point and gain new options. The module was integrated by Boeing and was developed with Lockheed Martin’s IRST21™ sensor, the GE Aviation FPU-13 Fuel Tank Assembly and the Meggitt Defense Industry Environmental Control unit. Lockheed was also responsible for putting the pieces together.
As we can see there are different approaches to pods but all have a common thing – they allow multi-million dollar aircraft to stay in the game for additional years. Which from a tax payers perspective is a very good thing.