Electronic Weapons: The Little Friend

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April 23, 2009: The U.S. Department of Defense has upgraded its ALE-50 decoy system, to use an electronic frequency converter (EFC) that plugs into the aircrafts electronic warfare systems. The EFC enables the decoy to generate a wider array of deceptive signals. The ALE-50 entered service in the late 1990s, after a decade of development. The U.S. Navy and Air Force have been satisfied with the many realistic tests of the system, and the little combat experience it has had so far.

The system looks like a small bomb, and is attached to a hard point on a fighter or bomber. But the ALE-50 is a container that contains a small glider that is ejected out of the rear of the container, and remains connected via a thin cable. The pilot can control the ALE-50 aircraft, which trails behind the aircraft, looking , to approaching missiles, like it is the aircraft. The "little friend" (as pilots like to call the ALE-50), then attracts any missiles fired at the aircraft. Some 22,500 ALE-50s were initially ordered, at a cost of about $23,000 each, for use on F-16s, F-18s and B-1Bs.

The ALE-50 is stored in its sealed container, which has a ten year shelf life. The system uses an interface that can work with any of the three aircraft types it is designed to support. The latest orders have been more expensive (more like $50,000 each) because to get the most out of it, you need to install the EFC in each aircraft.

 


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