CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF OPERATIONS -- When the AV8B Harrier IIs of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) recently flew combat missions over Afghanistan, they had under their wings laser-guided munitions and a new imaging system that greatly enhances the MEU's combat potential.
Known as the Litening II Pod, this precision targeting and reconnaissance system entered the Marine Corps inventory in August 2000 and was immediately put through an exhaustive test and evaluation process that involved training pilots and ground crew in its maintenance and operation.
Marine Medium Helicopter 261 (Reinforced), the aviation combat element of the 22nd MEU (SOC), had the distinction of giving Litening Pod II its operation initiation and the missions over Afghanistan marked its first combat use.
"It [Litening II Pod] has given the MEU a capability that hasn't existed since the RF-4 tactical reconnaissance was retired," said Maj. David A. 'Tip' Vosteen, of Williamsburg, Va., one of the Harrier pilots who took the system through the paces in Afghanistan.
From a distance resembling a gun or rocket pod, the Litening system incorporates what in the past was several systems into a single, self-contained unit that requires permanent modifications on the aircraft carrying the system. The Litening II Pod consists of a charged coupled device (CCD-TV) camera used for video reconnaissance and forward-looking infra-red (FLIR) and laser spot tracker/range finder sensors to assist in its targeting mission.
"We now have the ability to frag a sortie dedicated to obtaining and bringing tactical imagery back to the ship so it can be used for mission planning and execution," said Vosteen. "It also allows us to stand off in an altitude sanctuary and deliver precision strikes on point targets, or mark these targets for others."
The squadron's avionics department is responsible for maintaining the system and ensuring it is ready for immediate use, while ordnance technicians actually load the Litening II Pod onto the aircraft.
Cpl. Jacob L. Beach is an ordnance technician who loaded not only the Litening II Pod onto the Afghanistan-bound Harriers, but the aircraft's complement of weaponry as well.
"It was good to be doing something in the war against terrorism," said the Lakeville, Ind., native, commenting on watching the fruits of his labor hurtle off the deck of the USS Wasp strung beneath the Harriers. "We were the first ones to use Litening, and we're setting the standards for lazing targets and recon for other squadrons to follow."
Vosteen, who flew combat missions in Operation Desert Storm, summed up the feelings he and many others, from intelligence analysts to infantrymen who rely on the system to support them in combat, have about the Litening II Pod.
"The AV8B is now more useful, more survivable, and more lethal than ever before."
Another Harrier pilot, Capt. Michael J. 'Stump' Perez, of Jacksonville, Fla., vocalizes his opinion of the Litening II Pod in an even simpler manner.
"The Litening Pod is phenomenal."
These missions in Afghanistan were the latest in a string of exercises and operations conducted by the 22nd MEU (SOC) in the ongoing global war against terrorism, most of which are still and will remain undisclosed.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC), visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.