Electronic Weapons: MALD Momma And Her Malicious Mob


June 6, 2011: The U.S. Air Force has developed a launcher that allows ADM 160B MALD (miniature air-launched decoy) to be launched, in large quantities, from the back of a transport. Recently, a test was successfully conducted from the back of a C-130. The MCALS (MALD Cargo Air Launched System) is a boxlike device that holds eight MALDs. Shoved out the back of the aircraft, the MCALS contains an altimeter and when a preprogrammed altitude is reached, MCALS releases the MALDs. Each MALD appears, on enemy radar, to be a full size fighter or fighter bomber. Several dozen, or over a hundred, MALDs launched towards well defended (by radars and ground based missiles) enemy air space would force the radars to be more active and missiles to be launched. American electronic warfare aircraft would pick all this, and have  a target list of American missiles.

MCALS was an idea that had to wait for years to be built and tested. That because until quite recently, the MALD itself seemed trapped in an endless loop of failed development. A year ago, the U.S. Air Force told the development firm to either finish work on MALD (the new decoy) or have it cancelled. This mess began back in 2003, when the air force issued an $88 million development contract for a new powered decoy. The new MALD was to be 3.1 meters (9.5 feet) long, and its pop-out wings gave it a 1.6 meter (five foot) wingspan. The 91 kg (200 pound) MALD was to be powered by a small turbojet engine that gave it a speed of up to about 1000 kilometers an hour, for 45 minutes at 11.2 kilometers (35,000 feet), or 20 minutes at one kilometer (3,100 feet). It was to be programmed to fly a specific course to try and get enemy air defenses to open up, so they can be spotted and destroyed. MALDs were also designed to be used in swarms to overwhelm particularly thick, or stubborn, enemy air defenses.

Testing and development of MALD began in 2003, with the expectation that the new version would be ready for service by 2007, at a cost of about $125,000 each. That did not happen, and a lot of air force generals were not happy. The contractor finally got the message last year. MALD then proceeded to pass 33 of 35 tests over an eight month period. However, the MALD now weighs 130 kg (285 pounds) and costs about twice as much. But the modified MALD design can handle more complex defenses. Apparently, the third try was the charm.

An earlier MALD design project had been cancelled in 2002, as its cost and complexity spiraled out of control. Eight years ago, the MALD was supposed to be a smaller (2.6 meters/eight feet long), simpler and cheaper ($30,000) design. But, as is common with these project, both the air force and the manufacturer, or the air force, 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, which is now in production, has a range of about 900 kilometers, and is apparently reliable enough to be used in combat. The new capabilities allow a single C-130, or C-17, to rapidly deploy hundreds of them, causing, at the very least, consternation among enemy air defense commanders. At least 1,600 MALDs are on order.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close