Point, Click, Kill: Iraq Wants Precision-Guided Bombs for Jets
U.S. mulls additional support for an embattled Iraq
Iraq’s new air force might be small, but it’ll also be deadly. To augment Iraq’s American-made F-16s with the ability to launch pinpoint strikes, the Pentagon is looking into outfitting them with some of its fanciest targeting computers.
In a request for information released May 12, the Air Force detailed its interest in finding a company capable of providing more than 100 operational AA/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods for foreign military sales “to include Iraq, Pakistan and Taiwan.”
The request notes the “requirement is to sustain 125 operational systems flying an average of 12 hours per month at an 85 percent operational availability.”
The AA/AAQ-33’s bland name belies the fact that it’s a deadly piece of hardware. Designed by Lockheed-Martin for use on military aircraft, the light-weight pod uses a high-resolution Forward Looking Infrared (or FLIR) sensor and a laser to mark and track targets at altitudes as high as 50,000 feet.
After the pod acquires its target, the system feeds data to the aircraft’s Joint Direct Attack Munitions—or JDAMS—as they travel the ground. Baghdad will most likely use the AA/AAQ-33 to guide older Paveway bombs and Maverick missiles, which the U.S. has approved for export to Iraq.
In short, the AA/AAQ-33 is the remote brain behind some of America’s deadliest bombs.
Lockheed is already building the Sniper pods for Iraq, they were awarded a contract for it back in 2012. This request is different. It mentions spare parts, support equipment and contractor technical support. This contract is about providing Iraq with the tools to manage and repair the weapon system on its own.
The pods are compatible with the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a fighter jet the U.S. is selling to Iraq by the dozens. South Korea also sells jets to Iraq, specifically the FA-50. The South Korean light fighter has all the hard points needed to equip the targeting pods.
It’s not hard to see where Iraq would put its F-16s to work.
Iraq is embroiled in a bloody insurgency that’s claimed thousands of lives in recent months. Sunni fighters — some affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — remain in control of several western Iraqi cities including Fallujah.
The insurgents have mined the roads and covered the streets with snipers. Houses are booby-trapped. Iraqi forces have run short of missiles and bombs needed to dislodge the insurgents.
Iraq tried flying lightly-armored helicopters into the fray. It didn’t go well.
“The result was helicopters shot up and crews (many of whom we had trained) suffering grievous wounds,” Brett McGurk, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in February.
To offset the insurgents’ defensive advantages, the U.S. began supplying dozens of Hellfire missiles and unarmed ScanEagle and Raven drones to Iraq. This is on top of millions of rifle rounds, artillery shells and thousands of rifles and rocket launchers. The situation is so bad, Iraq now wants the U.S. to send armed drones into the country.
It’s unlikely any single weapon will tip the balance, but the U.S. may find it easier to equip Iraq with precision-guided bombs compared to committing the U.S. in a protracted drone war. Iraq’s air force will be able to simply pinpoint targets and … blammo.