Imagine keeping your eye on a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher. Unless you’re a big leaguer yourself, you might have trouble doing it. Now, imagine keeping track of a fast pitch from hundreds of yards away.

Tracking an aircraft in flight with a passive sensor is no easier. As with a baseball, tracking an aircraft beyond the line of sight seems nearly impossible. Distance, supersonic speed, clutter and environmental factors all increase the level of difficulty. Despite those challenges, Northrop Grumman’s OpenPod™ IRST makes it happen. Here’s how.

It begins with an understanding of what happens when an object travels through the air. When baseball announcers talk about a pitcher “bringing the heat,” they’re onto something. Every object creates friction as it pushes against the air. That rule applies to aircraft – fast, slow or even unmanned – just as it does to a baseball. That friction leads to heat, which registers on the electromagnetic spectrum as infrared light. An infrared sensor is able to detect this energy. OpenPod™ IRST uses an advanced focal plane array to perform this task.

Next, complex algorithms take over and separate the hot aircraft from the cooler background. This allows the system to track the aircraft against the sky, ground and other objects, often referred to as clutter. This is where Northrop Grumman’s decades of experience with infrared countermeasures, the LITENING targeting system and the F-35 Distributed Aperture System really stand out. Software developed by Northrop Grumman gives these systems the ability to track fast-moving targets with great precision, and to share tracking data with other systems. OpenPod™ IRST builds on the success of these algorithms to generate weapons-quality tracking data. The pod can share that data over Link 16 and other protocols with a fire control radar or other systems for engagement.

It all adds up to a significant advantage for aviators. Detecting an opponent without being detected has always been an important tenet of air warfare. OpenPod™ increases the odds of that happening.

So, how does Northrop Grumman’s OpenPod™ track fast-moving targets even beyond line of sight? It takes a state-of-the-art sensor and sophisticated algorithms based on decades of experience. It’s a combination that will give warfighters a sharper eye in the sky and protection against modern airborne threats.

OpenPod™: Keeping its eye on the ball