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US Air Force completes first multi-platform IRST test with Legion pods

Multi-platform IRST test with F-16 and F-15
An F-16 and F-15 prepare to test a datalink between two IRST pods. Photo: US Air Force

US Air Force fighters recently managed to triangulate a target without the use of radar or other active ranging sources by pooling infra-red search and track (IRST) sensor data via their Legion pods.

The Integrated Test Team at Eglin Air Force Base completed the first-ever multi-platform operational test to effectively locate a target with IRST on April 7.

An F-15C Eagle and an F-16 Fighting Falcon, both equipped with Lockheed Martin’s Legion Pod, used the IRST21 infrared sensor to detect a target. The aircraft were then able to share that sensor data over the Legion pod’s advanced datalink to passively triangulate target position.

“IRST technology provides a key enabler in the long-range kill chain as well as the ability to locate targets in a multispectral domain,” said Lt Col. Jeremy Castor, Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force F-16 sensors program manager. “Any large-force scenario includes multiple aircraft types, each with different viewpoints of the battlespace. The ability to share data provides information to the warfighter they would not be able to get otherwise.”

The Legion Pod’s common interface allows integration onto any aircraft with minimal to no impact on the aircraft’s core software. This versatility opens the door for integration with minimal effort onto other fighter aircraft like the Air Force’s newest fighter, F-15EX.

Photo: US Air Force

“Our next step will be to explore the operationally relevant capabilities that IRST with an advanced datalink provides the warfighter,” said Castor. “The eventual goal is to provide this capability to anyone carrying an ADL Legion pod, regardless of platform.”

The first successful two-ship F-15 IRST ADL test occurred at Northern Edge in April 2021, while the first successful two-ship F-16 IRST ADL test occurred in December 2021 at Eglin.

The successful completion of this combined F-15/F-16 test on April 7 marks a milestone event in the program’s ongoing progress, the air force said.