Hercules and Fighting Falcon upgrades


Military contracts usually are long-term projects. The upgrade of the Hercules electronic warfare self-protection suite and the introduction of the Sniper XR/PANTERA to supplement the Fighting Falcon’s LANTIRN pods were contracted a couple of years ago. Deliveries are now in full progress.


C-130H electronic warfare self-protection upgrade

 On 11 April 2005, a contract was awarded to Thales Aerospace Division to upgrade the self-protection suite of the remaining 11 Lockheed C-130H Hercules tactical transport aircraft of the Belgian Air Component. The contract calls for the integration of new items with already built-in elements to come to a complete, state-of-the-art on-board self-protection suite against air-to-air and ground-to-air missile threats. Thales is prime contractor for the order and leads a team of European companies specialised in the field of electronic warfare to meet the Air Component’s requirements.

 The Danish company Terma acts as systems integrator and has to make newly introduced and already present systems work together: the Thales Airborne Systems supplied CATS-100 RWR (Compact Airborne Threat Surveyor Radar Warning Receiver), the Terma updated AN/ALE-40 ACMDS (Advanced Counter-Measures Dispensing System) and the already installed Raytheon AN/AAR-44A IR-MWS (Infra-Red Missile Warning System).

 To integrate the entire electronic warfare suite of the Hercules, Terma provides the hardware and software of its AN/ALQ-213(V) EWMS (Electronic Warfare Management System). This EWMS is based on the system that Terma developed in the early 1990s in close cooperation with the Royal Danish Air Force to reduce the pilot’s workload and to ensure prompt, coordinated and effective use of all electronic warfare systems on board of the F-16 combat aircraft. The system, which can integrate, manage and control a wide variety of electronic warfare elements, was later adapted for use in other combat aircraft, helicopters and transport aircraft. During the 2006 Farnborough International Air Show, Thales selected the Belgian company BARCO to provide its 5 by 4 inch CHDD-254 (Cockpit Head Down Display) as a dedicated electronic warfare situational awareness display for the centralisation of all electronic warfare information of interest to the crew.

 All modifications to the aircraft’s hardware are performed by OGMA – Indústria Aeronáutica de Portugal, which has more than 35 years of experience in carrying out all levels of maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade of the type.

 The new self-protection system is fully user-programmable through the Terma TDU (Tactical Data Unit). Data can be loaded into the EW suite by means of a PC-compatible data cartridge, which can simply be plugged into the system. This allows uploading of among others mission data, threat parameters and geo-location data. It also enables embedded training, which means that pilots can be trained during normal peacetime flights as if they were flying in electronic warfare conditions. Results of such training flights or data collected during operational missions can be downloaded for further use in the same practical way.


Lockheed C-130H CH-04 

Lockheed C-130H CH-10

 The new electronic warfare suite was successfully presented to the Belgian Air Component in early 2007 and is now in full production. Known updated aircraft are CH-01, CH-04 (seen here at Kleine-Brogel on 30 April 2008) and CH-10 (seen here at Melsbroek on 22 March 2008). According to contract, the final modified aircraft will be delivered in 2009. The costs of the project are close to 22.5 million euro.




(Top: viewed from front to back, Bottom: viewed from back to front)

 The four Thales CATS-100 RWR receiver aerials are installed in the aircraft’s nose and tail and cover its port and starboard front and aft sectors. They can be found just in front of the aircraft’s serial number on the nose and left and right on the tail cone (blue circles).

 The chaff and flare dispensers of the updated AN/ALE-40 ACMDS are installed in four pairs under the aircraft’s nose and in the aft end of the main landing gear fairings (yellow circles). This system was originally developed for the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and is also installed in the Belgian F-16s, as is the Terma AN/ALQ-213 EWMS.

 The main external feature of the Raytheon AN/AAR-44A IR-MWS is the conical electro-optical detector installed under the fuselage in between the main landing gear fairings (red circle). This passive airborne warning receiver utilises the threat missile’s infra-red energy to provide warning of missile attack. Design features include automatic warning and counter-measures command, track-while-search processing, multiple missile threat capability and countermeasures discrimination capability. The system can discriminate between missile heat and false radiation sources like the sun, water or terrain reflections and decoys. It can identify missile types using infra-red colour spectra, radiation intensity and trajectory features. The sensor covers 360° in azimuth and 135° in elevation and can detect launches while flying at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet. During take-off and landing, the cone is protected by a downward swinging door against impacts from stones, debris, mud or ice projected by the nose wheel.

F-16 targeting pods

 During its meeting of 31 March 2006, the Council of Ministers approved the procurement of 8 advanced targeting pods as a complement to the 8 AN/AAQ-14 LANTIRN targeting pods acquired in 1997 for the Lockheed Martin F-16s of the Air Component. The contract with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control was signed on 7 February 2007 through the foreign military sales programme. The first six AN/AAQ-33 Sniper XR  pods have recently been delivered and are at present being used to prepare pilots for their coming mission to Afghanistan. As the 2nd Tactical Wing at Florennes will be the first unit to deploy to Kandahar airbase, it received four of the pods, while the 10th Tactical Wing at Kleine-Brogel received the remaining two.

 Sniper XR is fully integrated and certified on the common EPAF F-16MLU configuration, hence offering low-risk, high-performance and substantial support cost savings. Other European customers for this pod are Norway and Poland for their F-16s and the United Kingdom for its Harrier GR.7/9s.

 The AN/AAQ-33 Sniper XR (Extend Range), has a number of advantages over the old AN/AAQ-14 LANTIRN (Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infra-Red for Night).


(1)    The supersonic, semi-low-observable design of the pod reduces its aerodynamic drag, radar cross section and weight. The pod weighs 65 kg less than its predecessor and is 20 cm shorter and 8 cm less in diameter.

(2)    The wedge-shaped nose is made of sapphire which is transparent to visible and infrared wavelengths and extremely resistant to impact and damage making a backward rotating head to protect the transparent parts superfluous.

(3)    The third generation high-resolution FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) and daylight CCD-TV camera combined with an almost rock-steady stabilisation system give the pod an unparalleled long-range target detection, identification and designation accuracy from altitudes of up to 40,000 feet, which is 3 to 5 times better than its predecessor. The pod can be operated from distances outside the lethal envelope of most ground-based air defence systems, as well as outside jet noise ranges for urban counter-insurgency operations. It generates precision coordinates of GPS-aided weapons guidance quality, adding to lethality and to collateral damage reduction.

(4)    The dual-mode laser offers an eye safe mode for urban combat operations and for training, along with a mode for the designation of targets for laser-guided precision munitions.

(5)    The laser spot tracker, laser marker and real-time TV quality infra-red and daylight video downlink to air controllers on the ground improve rapid and correct target detection and identification as well as cooperation with ground-based laser designators and coordination with ground operations.

(6)    The optimal partitioning of the pod’s modular design and its built-in diagnostic capabilities permit to isolate and replace a faulty line replaceable unit and to bring the pod back to full mission capable status in under 20 minutes. Maintenance is limited to flight line and depot level and the pod can be disassembled quickly with common hand tools. A mean time between failures of 600 hours or more helps keeping life cycle costs low.

(7)    The digital data recorder allows saving images and bringing them back for further analysis, adding new capabilities in meeting the challenges of non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

(8)    The pod allows passive detection and tracking of airborne targets.

(9)    Bore sight and aircraft alignment are automated.



Sniper XR equipped F-16AM FA-126 at the Florennes flight line on 25 April 2008.


Sniper equipped F-16AM FA-92 landing at Florennes airbase.


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Text and pictures by

© Jos Schoofs (May 2008)

Last updated 09/05/08 20:26   Daniel Brackx