April 7, 2010:
MALD (miniature air-launched decoy) is finally ready to rumble. That's a year after the U.S. Air Force received its first production models. After over a decade of development, the air force now has enough MALDs in inventory to actually carry out operations with the new device. MALD is a powered decoy that appears, on enemy radar, as a warplane. This MALD works. Six years of wasted effort on earlier designs created several versions that did not work. MALD is expected to get a radar jamming capability within two years. Currently, only the B-52 and F-16 are equipped to carry MALD.
The new MALD is 9.5 feet long, and its pop-out wings give it a five foot wingspan. The 285 pound decoy is powered by a small turbojet engine that gives it a speed of up to 1000 kilometers an hour, for 45 minutes at 35,000 feet, or 20 minutes at 3,000 feet. It can be programmed to fly a specific course to try and get enemy air defenses to open up, so the enemy weapons can be spotted and destroyed. MALDs are also designed to be used in swarms to overwhelm enemy air defenses. The new MALDs cost nearly $300,000 each.
Early on, the MALD was supposed to be a smaller (eight feet long), simpler and cheaper ($30,000) design. But, as is common with these project, both the air force and the manufacturer, kept coming up with new things the MALD had to have. Some were necessary, others were just part of the usual procurement politics. The current MALD, has a range of nearly 900 kilometers, and is apparently reliable enough to be used in combat. The radar jamming capability of MALD-J will be the first of many electronic warfare capabilities added to the higher (up to half a million dollars, or more, each) priced version of MALD planned for the future.