A silent revolution in decoys and jammers has taken place over that last two decades. The Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) and MALD-Jammer, built by Raytheon, have given the U.S. forces and its allies a first-strike capability without the use of stealth aircraft, allowing more numerous, conventional attack aircraft to pierce and destroy advanced enemy anti-air defenses.

MALD seen here on a B-52
MALD seen here on a B-52

The MALD and MALD-J systems are $130,000 each, stealthy, high-tech, expendable drones with a 300 pound payload package, designed to distract, illuminate, and jam anti-air defenses. In the past the nation’s air force’s have used relatively unsophisticated decoy systems, such as infrared flares which only served to attract infrared missiles, and chaff, aluminum powder, which has been used for sixty years to confuse traditional radar guided rockets.

The Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) Program began in 1995 by DARPA (Department of Advanced Research Projects Agency) as an effort to develop a small, low cost decoy missile for use in the suppression of enemy defences. Teledyne Ryan, acquired by Northrop Grumman in 1999, was granted a development contract for the ADM-160A in 1996, and the first test flight took place in 1999.

The evaluation program was finished by 2001, with exceptional test scores, 33/33; thus, low quantity production began in 2012. Replicating the radar and radio signals of U.S. and Allied bombers and fighters, with a range of 570 miles, powered by a TJ-50 turbojet engine, with a 50 minute loiter time over target area, and the ability to have 100 pre-programmed waypoints utilizing GPS and internal navigation.  The USAF (United States Air Force ) currently has an order of 1,500 MALDs.

Raytheon saw the potential in the MALD platform and decided to expand on it. With ideas ranging from a cruise missile-like Jammer system, called the MALD-J, to an expendable UAV with a warhead, which would have been called the MALD-V. So far the MALD-J has garnered most of the attention.

The MALD-J (Jammer) utilises the MALD platform, but has a powerful electronics package that can confuse, disrupt, or overwhelm enemy Anti-Aircraft Radar systems. The MALD-J accomplishes this by the “…employment of concurrent stand in jamming (SIJ) and stand off jamming (SOJ)” stated by Jim “Longo” Long ,MALD® Business Development Manager, Air Warfare Systems, Missile Systems. Like the MALD, the MALD-J also has a range of 570 miles, can loiter 50 minutes over the target area due to being equipped with a TJ-50 turbojet engine, and can have up to 100 pre-programmed waypoints.

Eventual sales to allied nations are under consideration. The British Ministry of Defence expressed interest in the MALD platforms at the Paris Airshow in 2009. According to Joe Staton, Sr. Manager Air Warfare Systems, Missile Systems, Raytheon Company any further developments about purchases cannot be released

“We are unable to supply details on status of our relationship in a possible British program.”

It is a likely assumption that these could become a go-to tool for NATO members in highly contested airspace. As Raytheon Missile Systems President Taylor Lawrence put it “The world’s first stand-in jammer. … It’s one of the most advanced systems ever produced by Raytheon.”

The advances made by Raytheon in this area are likely to spur competition as well, and we will likely see copycat systems in the air within the next 10 years. Though the copycat systems will likely be less effective, and Raytheon is already working on upgrades for the MALD platform, including a cargo-plane launching system called CALS (Cargo Aircraft Launch System), more powerful instrumentation and deployment on C-130s and MQ-9 Reapers will be released as early as 2015.

The USN has started to initiate procurement of the MALD-J for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, giving carrier strike groups ability to conduct operations in higher “pucker factor” environments.

“Raytheon Co. Missile Systems, Tucson, Arizona, has been awarded an $80,768,012 firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the Lot 7 Miniature Air Launched Decoy Jammer (MALD-J) missile (200 each) to include: data, mission planning, process verification program, and operational flight software. Work will be performed at Tucson, Arizona, and is expected to be completed by June 30, 2016. This award is a result of a sole-source acquisition. Fiscal 2012, 2013 and 2014 procurement and operations and maintenance funds are being obligated in the amount of $79,112,476 at time of award.”

– InsideDefence.com.

The USAF is further along, and has recently received its 1,000th MALD-J as of May, 2014. The USAF now has more MALD-Js then it does F-16s.

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