A sniper pod is mounted on the lower right of a B-1B Lancer fuselage. The sniper pod allows the aircrew to positively identify a target and quickly assess battle damage after an attack. (Air Force photo by Jet Fabara)
by Maj. Nori La Rue
95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
6/4/2008 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Edwards Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force and the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, combined the operational and developmental test of a B-1B Lancer here to accelerate the bomber's sniper pod program.
With the accelerated testing cutting the length of the program from nine months down to three, the B-1 sniper pod is expected to be operational as early as this summer.
"This has been the first time that we have brought (a force developmental evaluation) squadron here," said Lt. Col. Troy Asher, Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force director and 419th Flight Test Squadron commander. "We have done all flavors of testing here at the same time in the span of about two weeks, which was originally planned for two months. We have knocked out over half of the force developmental evaluation. We have been able to take data from their (operational) testing, and they have been able to take data from our (developmental) testing. It has just been phenomenal."
Typically, the Global Power Bomber CTF performs the developmental testing on a system as well as the initial stages of operational testing because Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center is part of the CTF. At the end of every program, the B-1 would be sent back to Air Combat Command for force developmental evaluation, the final part of operational testing in which they develop tactics and training procedures.
"Developmental test and operational test have different perspectives on what each wants to get out of a test program," said Lt. Col. Christopher Brunner, 337th TES commander. "We have to be smart and mesh each other's objectives together to ensure not only the system under test is safe and has no major deficiencies, but also it is operationally effective and relevant for the warfighter."
"The targeting pod is probably one of the most significant upgrades to the B-1," said Capt. Brandon Miller, B-1 flight commander and 419th FLTS targeting pod project pilot. "This is significantly going to decrease the time from a request for a bomb on a target, to actually dropping a weapon, creating the desired lethal effects and then being able to assess and re-attack if necessary."
For more than four years, the B-1 has been the workhorse of the weapons delivery both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, Colonel Asher said.
"A lot of times, we are not allowed to drop on targets because we are not exactly sure we wouldn't hit friendlies, or we might hit something we are not supposed to hit," he said.
"With the pod, we can cross check coordinates and visually determine and correlate the target we want to strike," said Maj. Joshua Lane, 419th FLTS flight test weapons systems officer and assistant director of operations. "The rules of engagement and the instructions in theater are very robust to prevent an aircrew from bombing the wrong target. There's a very deliberate chain that has to be followed. Adding the target identification capability to the chain gives us the level of security we need to accurately strike targets."
Moreover, through the video downlink on the pod, the new system can provide instantaneous feedback to the joint terminal attack controller, Colonel Brunner said.
"It's very important to remember that this also benefits the warfighter on the ground that the B-1 is supporting," Colonel Asher said. "They are our 'customers' who we are ultimately serving, and anything we can do to get bombs on target quicker, the better."
Combining the developmental and operational tests puts a large strain on the team, the colonel said.
"But it's a testament to how fast we can go if we need to," he said. "If the warfighter has a critical need, we can get it out to them in record time."
Throughout the testing, the team members have been working two and three missions in a given week, said Capt. Brian Neff, 419th FLTS chief flight test engineer.
Even with setbacks such as system malfunctions, the team has been able to overcome those obstacles and stay on track.
"The main challenge is completing all testing in a safe and timely manner to preserve training time for the operational aircrew before they deploy with this new capability later this summer," Colonel Brunner said. "We were presented with a compressed schedule due to some production delays and aircraft fallout, but in the end it's the great people involved with the program who overcame a lot of adversity and made things happen."
Because the sniper pod is a "desperately needed capability in theater," everyone here has been incredibly focused on getting this done, Colonel Asher said.
"We have gotten all of the support we've needed from the Air Force Flight Test Center and all across the Air Force to make this happen, and I'm proud to be a part of this team," he said.