An F-16 fighter with a Sniper pod hanging from its underbelly. Photo: Handout
An F-16 fighter with a Sniper pod hanging from its underbelly. Photo: Handout

Eighteen Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods are included in the latest US arms package for Taiwan announced by the Donald Trump administration at the end of last month.

Hanging from the underbelly of Taiwan’s fleet of F-16s, these devices will enhance the air force’s all-weather ground-attack capabilities.

Lockheed Martin confirmed last week that its Sniper pods, capable of positive target identification, autonomous tracking, Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinate generation and precise weapons guidance, would soon be shipped to the island.

The finalized list of the latest round of arms for Taiwan worth US$330 million had already been sent to the US Congress.

The new deal is to cover standard spare parts and the repair and replacement of parts in support of Taiwan’s F-16s, C-130 cargo planes, and F-5s as well as its domestically produced fighters.

While Taiwan’s Defense Ministry is yet to release details of the arms, Lockheed has said the list would include its Sniper pods.

The reason that Taiwan opted for the Sniper pods is that the platform’s image-processing capabilities allow aircrew to detect, identify and engage tactical-size targets from altitudes above 4,500 meters, which is outside the range of most enemy air defenses, giving it a crucial role in the destruction of enemy air defense missions.

Advanced sensors and image processing incorporating image stabilization enable targets to be identified at ranges that minimize exposure to defensive enemy systems.

The pods are also a huge improvement to the exiting low-altitude navigation and targeting systems the Taiwanese air force now uses.

The Sniper also supports urban engagements beyond jet-noise range for counterinsurgency operations.

According to an F-16 performance upgrade budget that the Defense Ministry submitted to the Legislative Yuan, the government has set aside NT$2.57 billion (US$84 million) for the purchase.

The Sniper pods have been widely installed across a host of fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft of the US Air Force since Lockheed won a contract in August 2001.

A Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter equipped with a Sniper pod. Photo: Handout

The targeting-pod series is also exported to US allies including Canada, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

Taiwan is also set to take delivery of its first batch of four revamped F-16s by the end of this year, which are built around the latest F-16V standard of the all-weather, multi-role supersonic fighter series made by Lockheed.

This is part of the island’s US$4.21 billion outlay for the upgrade of its fleet of 143 F-16A/Bs to the latest configuration, which is dubbed V for “Viper.”

Read more: F-16V to beef up Taiwan’s air defense against China’s J-20

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