The Buzz

How Northrop Grumman's OpenPod Technology Could Make the U.S. Air Force Even More Lethal

Northrop Grumman has developed a new fighter-mounted pod that can be reconfigured for a new types of missions in a matter of minutes.

For example, if a Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle were flying a strike mission, the pod would be configured as a targeting sensor, but if the next sortie called for an air-to-air tasking, the pod could be reconfigured as data-link to connect to fifth-generation fighters like the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

“Reconfiguring OpenPod is as simple as swapping line replaceable units and attaching a new front end,” reads a Northrop Grumman statement. “In minutes, maintainers can have an aircraft ready for a new mission. An air-to-air mission to clear the skies may call for infrared search-and-track, while a subsequent air-to-ground mission may require a suite of advanced targeting sensors. With OpenPod, the aircraft may be ready for its next mission even before the crew can finish another energy drink.”

The new pod is based on the existing mold line of the LITENING Advanced Targeting Pod and uses the same tooling and procedures. However, because the new pod is completely reconfigurable, it is much more capable. The OpenPod can be configured for communications, electro-optical/infrared targeting, electronic support measures, electronic warfare, air-to-air infrared search and track, air-to-ground LiDAR mapping and fourth-to-fifth-generation communications. The system was inspired by modern smartphone technology.

"We live in an era of rapid change, where software and electronics are expected to perform multiple functions," said Rob Fleming, vice president of programs at Northrop Grumman. "Every smartphone user understands the benefits of multi-mission systems. We have applied that same thinking to OpenPod."

It’s innovative technology like the OpenPod that will keep America’s defense industry at the fore. Unlike massive programs that might take decades to come to fruition—often delivering technology that is dated by the time it becomes operational—smaller more agile developments like OpenPod deliver advances to the Pentagon quickly and for lower prices.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.