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Pave Knife was developed in 1969 to replace the original, essentially improvised Airborne Laser Designator (ALD) and TRIM pod (see A-6 Intruder). ALD was not a pod but a hand-held laser operated by the weapon systems officer to mark targets for Paveway laser-guided bombs. Pave Knife was a roughly banana-shaped external pod, weighing about 550 kg (1,200 lb), containing a steerable laser and closed-circuit television camera. The Weapon Systems Officer or bombardier/navigator (BN) monitored the TV image with a small Sony TV in the cockpit and steered the laser onto the target with a hand controller, then passing the target information to the aircraft's gun sight.
When Pave Knife was sent out for bid by the Air Force, it was for a firm fixed-price type of contract, it involved design, development, and manufacture of one prototype, and also a quick reaction project. Quick reaction meant it was considered of a vital nature for the Vietnam War effort. This meant it was a high risk project for the successful bidder.
Ford Aerospace was known at that time as Philco-Ford, Aeronutronics Division, in Newport Beach, California. This facility was recognized for its strong engineering skills in electo-optics and image stabilization (for example, the gunsight on an airborne helicopter vibrates wildly, but with stabilization, the target appears as if the helicopter were on the ground). This facility was at the time in production on the optical heat seeking (guidance) portion of the AIM-9 missile.
The Project Manager convinced the company to invest (while the bids were being reviewed by the USAF) in creating the specifications for the subcontracts, selecting the subcontractors, preparing contract verbiage, and setting it up to be able to turn on all the engineering and procurement on the day after the winner of the bidding was announced. The remainder of the design, prototype fabrication and system integration was completed within budget, and on-time with delivery accomplished in an astonishing 6 months from the contract award date.
The key subcontractors were Dalmo Victor in the San Francisco Bay peninsula who provided the night vision system. Another contractor provided a very complex power supply with multiple outputs to operate numerous system components, which had to be squeezed into a semi-oval shape to fit against the inner shape of the pod, with protrusions on the power supply to fit into whatever space was left after other components were designed in. Yet another provided the laser designator.
All the subcontractors met their specifications, price, and delivery dates. When the pod was shipped to Florida for testing at a base, the system met specifications. It immediately entered testing and performed so well that within a few weeks, it was shipped to Vietnam and placed into service where it met objectives.
The system used various technologies including image stabilization, night vision, target designation with a laser, and optical tracking to stay with moving ground targets. It had to withstand high G forces as well as very low and very high temperatures. A second jet with a laser-guided bomb using a guidance system provided by Texas Instrument would operate as a team with the first jet and drop the munitions.
Certainly this was the predecessor to the videos from the first Gulf War (roughly 20 years later) which were shown on TV to the public, which showed missiles headed for the windows on a building. Hitting a moving target is technically much more difficult.
Pave Knife was used by F-4 Phantom II and A-6 Intruder aircraft in the attack role. It was used operationally in the Vietnam War; while it had its limitations, it validated the combat utility of laser-guided bombs. The Pave Knife was superseded by the later Pave Spike and Pave Tack systems, and is no longer in service.
- Arming the Fleet (3rd ed.). Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division China Lake. 2011.