By Marina Malenic

The Air Force has awarded Lockheed Martin [LMT] a $13 million contract to upgrade the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod’s (ATP) existing data link with an enhanced digital Compact Multi-band Data Link (CMDL).

The contract covers work on 200 ATPs, Lockheed Martin officials said last week.

The upgrade expands the Sniper pod’s current video data link capabilities by enabling digital transmission of high definition imagery and metadata between aircrews and ground troops at extended ranges. The CMDL upgrade increases long-range battlefield situational awareness and positive target coordination and confirmation, while protecting air-to- ground transmissions from enemy exploitation.

The Sniper pod has provided valuable battlefield intelligence in a number of scenarios in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Scott Williams, commander of the 169th Fighter Wing, told reporters during a Sept. 10 teleconference. For example, it has been used to conduct reconnaissance on roads to locate improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

“This pod turned out to be one you could track humans with very well,” Williams said. “You can see body heat and even count the number of people on the road.”

When such an investigation reveals suspicious activity, the Air Force hands off the information to local police, the general said.

The Sniper pod is also used to conduct what Williams called “point of origin” searches. Following mortar attacks, the military sends F-16s or other ATP-equipped aircraft to the general area where the attack originated to investigate.

Officials said that the new CMDL communicates seamlessly with the fielded ROVER family of ground stations. The upgrade follows the S3.5 software upgrade of U.S. and coalition Sniper pods operational on F-16 Block 30/40/50, A-10C, F-15E and B-1 aircraft. The S3.5 added aircraft interfaces and provided new capabilities in air-to-air and air-to-surface tracking and designation, as well as video data link metadata and symbology enhancements.

Sniper ATP first deployed on the B-1 bomber in 2009, allowing the aircraft to extend its traditional close-air support mission to include non-traditional ISR. The pod is also being used on Air Force, Air National Guard and multinational F-16, F-15, B-1, F-18, Harrier, A-10 and Tornado aircraft. Its common software and hardware interface design enables users to “plug and play” across services and multiple platforms. Sniper ATP has been purchased by over a dozen international air forces.