TIALD, the Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator targeting pod, was manufactured by GEC Marconi in the 1990s, and was the UK’s primary laser designator for laser-guided bombs. It is still flown on the Tornado bomber.
The UK uses the Paveway series of laser-guided bombs (LGBs). The first operational use of LGBs by the UK’s armed forces were the RAF Harrier attacks on Argentine forces during the Falklands War. However, laser designation for these attacks was carried out by a forward air controller using a ground designator. Following the conflict it was realised that an airborne designator was required.
Ferranti Defence Systems started development of the TIALD pod in the late 1980s. The 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the resulting Gulf War saw the TIALD pod rushed into service. In the Gulf War several modified Panavia Tornados and some Blackburn Buccaneers laser designated for unmodified Tornados which carried LGBs. The Buccaneers carried the U.S. Pave Spike designator, which was limited to daylight use.
The RAF dropped over 6,000 1,000 lb bombs, 1,000 of which were laser guided. Two TIALD-equipped Tornados guided more than 200 LGBs onto targets in the last month of the conflict alone. Further development of the pod enabled aircraft to self-designate targets.
The TIALD pod has been used extensively since the Gulf War including during the Iraqi no-fly zone patrols (1991-2003), the related Operation Desert Fox (1998), the Kosovo War (1999) and the 2003 Iraq Conflict.
The TIALD pod has been constantly updated, the last version being the Series-500. TIALD has been sidelined in recent years by the introduction of the stand-off Storm Shadow missile, GPS-guided Enhanced Paveway, and the LITENING targeting pod to RAF service.
Experience in Afghanistan lead to the realisation that TIALD was outdated, as described by an RAF Wing Commander:
“[It] was designed in the 1980s, to allow pilots to drop laser guided bombs on targets like bridges, big buildings and aircraft hangars… TIALD as an air interdiction targeting pod is very good and has done this reasonably well over the last decade, as was proved in Deliberate Force (1995), Allied Force (1999), and Operation Telic (2003). Now, however, we need a sensor that is geared more towards urban [close air support], where we need to defend particular targets that are very similar to others, like compounds within small towns or villages.”