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Air Weapons: Follow The Navy
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May 9, 2010: The U.S. Air Force MALD (miniature air-launched decoy) has, after over a decade of development, been delivered in sufficient (although classified) quantities so that aircraft can 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.

Meanwhile, the similar U.S. Navy jet powered ADM-141C ITALD (Improved Tactical Air Launched Decoy) entered service about the time MALD entered development. ITALD is 2.34 meters (7.7 feet) long with a 1.55 meter (five foot) wingspan. It weighs 180 kg (400 pounds), has a top speed of 460 kilometers an hour and a range of about 300 kilometers. ITALD, as well as the earlier, unpowered, TALD, contains passive and active devices to enhance the radar image the enemy will receive when they spot the decoy. The navy bought about 200 ITALDs. In the late 1980s, the navy bought over 2,000 ADM-141 TALDs, which proved successful during the 1991 Gulf War. Israel also had success in combat with their version of  TALD, which was developed from similar decoys designed in the 1970s, based on Israeli and U.S. Navy experience with Russian equipped Arab air defense systems. The U.S. Air Force didn't get interested until after the Cold War ended, and that led to MALD.

The new powered version of MALD is three meters (9.5 feet) long, and its pop-out wings give it a 1.55 meter (five foot) wingspan. The 130 kg (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 projects, 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. This version is already in development. Thus the air force has pulled ahead in aerial decoy technology, although the TALD/ITALD series have the distinction of having been tested, and successful, in combat.


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