The Bosnian “Nighthawk Down” incident in 1999 showed that even old air defense systems could still be dangerous, and that smart tactics and selective use could keep those systems alive against heavy opposition. The challenge is finding them and targeting them. Against truly advanced air defense systems like the Russian SA-20 family, however, the challenge is survival. Advanced stealth technologies, advanced anti-radar weapons, and successful electronic jamming are required.
Air-launched decoys help, too. They’re not a new concept by any means, and the same technologies used in cruise missiles allow construction of “stealth in reverse” decoys that can fly long distances along pre-planned flight patterns, carrying radar reflectors that can simulate the radar return of fighter or bomber aircraft. Enemy air defenses see them as incoming aircraft, and must decide to either shut down and hide, or activate and reveal their position. If American aircraft are flying behind a wave a decoys, either option can be dangerous.
The US Navy has the ITALD, and the USAF’s ADM-160B/C Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) program began as a DARPA effort in 1996…
MALD and MALD-J Variant
MALD has changed over its program lifespan. One big change was required range, which forced the Air Force to move to a larger decoy, and led to a re-compete that Raytheon won from original incumbent Northrop Grumman in 2003. Prices have increased accordingly, from $30,000 to $120,000 per decoy. Range for the 300 pound system has also increased, to 500 nm/ 575 miles, with the ability to loiter over targets.
MALD flight testing of the Raytheon design was completed in January 2008, and the system has now passed required tests. In March 2009, the USAF accepted delivery of the 1st MALD low-rate initial production unit.
With its range and loiter time, however, MALD lends itself to other uses as well. One obvious use is to install radar jamming equipment, instead of radar reflecting equipment. The resulting system can add realism to an incoming wave of MALD decoys while neutralizing specific threats, or fly ahead on a mission of its own. The “MALD-J” electronics will have to be powerful enough to be useful, however, while remaining small and light enough to fit into a 300 pound MALD decoy.
The USAF wants to explore those possibilities. Raytheon received a 2-year, $80 million US Air Force contract for MALD-J Phase II risk reduction in April 2008. The firm is in the process of developing, integrating and testing the new MALD-J variant. The company conducted a free-flight test in December 2009 to ensure that MALD-J performs under conditions that resemble operational missions. A system Critical Design Review milestone was completed in February 2010, setting the stage for final system design and development, whose end-point will be free-flight testing and, ultimately, low rate initial production. MALD-J’s milestone C go/no-go decision re: production is expected in early 2011.
Contracts and Key Events
April 30/10: Raytheon Co. in Tucson, AZ receives a $53.1 million contract to develop the MALD-J active jamming variant. This includes the associated engineering, program management, supportability, mission planning, modeling and simulation, hardware fabrication, production readiness, software and testing efforts.
At this time, $24.5 million has been committed by the 692th ARSS/PK at Eglin Air Force Base, FL (FA8682-10-C-0010).
March 31/10: Raytheon announces that they have now delivered “an operationally significant quantity” MALD decoys to the USAF, allowing the service to reach its “required assets available” as scheduled. Raytheon had committed to a 2010 delivery schedule in 2003.
Raytheon will continue to deliver additional MALDs to the U.S. Air Force, and expects to deliver its first system to the U.S. Air Force in 2012. It also says that it “continues to make progress developing a jamming variant of the MALD.”
Feb 18/10: Raytheon announces that the USAF completed a critical design review (CDR) for the MALD-J variant. Passing the CDR follows completion of the 1st MALD-J free-flight test in December 2009. This sets the stage for a final system design and development and low rate initial production.
Jan 13/10: Raytheon announces that the USAF completed the 1st free-flight test of the MALD-J variant. The test demonstrated that the MALD-J has reached a technology readiness level 7 and sets the stage for the system to enter engineeing and manufacturing development. The Feb 18/10 announcement notes that the free-flight test was conducted in December 2009.
June 14/09: Raytheon announces that the company and the USAF completed a preliminary design review of the MALD-J variant.
March 17/09: Raytheon announces that the USAF accepted delivery of the 1st MALD low-rate initial production unit. With this delivery, Raytheon said that it is on schedule to meet the USAF required asset availabililty date of March 2010.
Jan 15/09: Raytheon announces that it received a $12.2 million USAF contract to study the feasibility of increasing power and adding a data link capability for the MALD-J. The contract requires Raytheon to integrate a data link and more powerful jammer amplifiers into the baseline MALD/MALD-J vehicle.
Raytheon will also determine the technical feasibility and performance capability of MALD-J Block II prior to building and flight testing the new vehicle.
April 9/08: Raytheon announces that it received a 2-year, $80 million contract from the USAF for Phase II risk reduction for the MALD-J. The contract calls for Raytheon to further develop, integrate and test the MALD-J variant.
Feb 26/08: Raytheon announces that MALD completed government and Raytheon verificaiton team flght testing on Jan 11/08. This sets the stage for MALD to enter low-rate initial production later in 2008. The testing, which began in June 2007, put the MALD through a series of flight profiles including jettison and powered flight tests from both F-16 and B-52 aircraft.
Oct 24/06: Raytheon announces that a series of MALD vehicles demonstrated successful separation when launched from an F-16 fighter. The flight tests took place at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, under a development contract managed by the 728th Armament Systems Group. In total, 9 free-flight launches took place from May to July 2006 at Eglin.
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