Tactical Airborne Reconnaisance Pod|
F-14 TARPS equipped ... or Peeping Tom. The TARPS is today the only possibility for the Navy to get tactical information about an area or target via a fast flying aircraft, the F-14. No other platform - except unmanned recconnaisance drones - is able to perform this mission in todays Navy. Since the retirement of the RF-8, the RF-4B and various A-3 Skywarrior variants, the F-14 is the only aircraft for this role (and can carry at the same time a complete range of air-to-air weapons!) until the introduction of a F/A-18 recce aircraft with reconnaisance equipment instead of a gun! (How will this aircraft be called? R/F/A-18?! The follow-on electronic version could be E/R/F/A-18 ...)
Early prototype TARPS pods (see photo below on the left) had a little different shape plus fins and were installed under the air inlet instead of an external fuel tank. They didn't become operational and were only used with F-14 prototypes. It is not known to me, if they were equipped with life cameras.
TARPS DI (TARPS Digital Imagery)
In September 1995 plans were issued to test a digital camera system for the TARPS pod on the F-14. Just seven month later, by June 1996 VF-32 had modified one of their Tomcats to carry the new pod, completed ground testing and test flights. In the new TARPS DI pod the standard KS-87 camera is replaced by a Pullnix digital camera with one vertical and one forward viewfinder. When a digital image is taken and stored in a solid-state storage device, the RIO has several alternatives: He might send the image immediately to the decision makers (who might immediately order a strike on the target) and leave the image in storage for review/later transmission or he might store all images and wait for download after return to the carrier. If the image is transmitted immediately, it is done via the UHF radio in 30 to 180 seconds per image at a 175 nautical miles distance.
Before the introduction of the digital TARPS data transmission, the transfer of reconnaissance photos was somewhat difficult. E.g. in the 1991 Gulf War F-14 TARPS reconnaissance missions did not end on the aircraft carrier, but the processed TARPS photography was dropped by S-3 Vikings over allied ground commanders to give them up-to-date target informations.
The TARPS CD is the very latest development and until end of 1999 only the F-14Bs of VF-102 are TARPS CD equipped.
Unlike the TARPS DI, the TARPS CD pod is a photo pod which is completely digital, providing more than just photos. The TARPS CD has it's own transmitter in the pod where on the TARPS DI, the digital image is transmitted to the aircraft radios and relayed to an E-2C Hawkeye.
VF-102 extensively tested this new pod: Targets were identified and located with the TARPS CD and instantly the data was relayed via E-2C to USS John F. Kennedy, where the TARPS CD data were reconciled with national GPS coordinates. Within minutes, these improved target locations data were transmitted to F/A-18s which followed the F-14s with 15 minutes delay. On arrival at the target area, the Hornets were able to make high precision strikes against the targets. An invaluable step ahead against mobile target!
So by providing near real time target locations information, the F-14s TARPS CD sets a new standard for tactical reconnaissance.
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