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Target designators or markers are an indispensable tool for the designation of targets for Close Air Support and Fire Control. They ensure the effectiveness of mission accomplishment and the survival of own forces.

Target markers are defined and standardised in NATO STANAG 3733. They use a laser beam to mark a target. The laser beam is reflected by the target and the "marking" or “painting” of the target caused by the reflection can be picked up and used by Semi-Active Laser seekers.

STANAG 3733 distinguishes between classes of target markers according to the power output of the laser in millijoules (mJ). Powerful target markers in excess of 50 mJ used to be very unwieldy and heavy and therefore of limited use for dismounted soldiers. Lighter target markers below 25 mJ were convenient, and also available, for example, in handgun form; but they had a limited range and excessive optical scattering, meaning that the target marking was often insufficient for the targeting sensor.

In principle, range performance is directly linked to the protection of friendly troops. Even when using a non-visible frequency, a laser beam is easily identified and increases the threat of enemy fire on the battlefield. The threat of enemy fire decreases as the target marker’s range increases.

In 2013, Leonardo MW Ltd. from Edinburgh, Scotland, set itself the task of bridging the capability gap and providing dismounted forces with a compact, lightweight, yet consistently powerful Laser Target Designator. With 40 years of laser development expertise, and the experience (greater than 70% market share) of delivering more than 5,000 high-power air-to-ground lasers to numerous air forces for targeting pods, the Type 163 Laser Target Designator was developed.

Weighing only 2.3 kg, including the battery, and with output power of 80 mJ, the Type 163 Laser Target Designator has a range of more than 10 km. One battery charge allows continuous use of the laser for approximately 45 minutes, without cooling.

The beam divergence of less than 200 microradians (μRad) ensures that even at ranges of more than 10 km, enough energy is returned from the target that the sensor or targeting pod can reliably detect the target, even in adverse weather conditions.

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Designing the laser target designator, emphasis was placed on usability in the field and handling by the soldier. (Photos: Leonardo MW Ltd.)

Overall, Leonardo MW Ltd. has focussed on usability in the field and ease of handling by the soldier. For example, the 10x optics use the same viewing channel as the laser to prevent deviation due to temperature fluctuations. A range finder enables the user reliably to determine the exact range to the target. A Picatinny rail offers the possibility to mount different sighting devices. With a volume requirement of 2 litres (comparable to two milk cartons), the compact design allows for storage and easy transport in a backpack. A remote control allows the target marker to be used from cover. Of course, the target marker can be operated manually or using a tripod.

The target marker is delivered with all PRF codes used by NATO. The user can change the PRF code within 3 seconds.

More than 19 NATO and NATO+ nations have already ordered the Type 163 Laser Target Designator, and over 700 have already been delivered to NATO customers.

The Type 163 Target Designator has been proven on numerous Special Forces, JTACs and JFST missions.