Airborne Decoys and Deception


Airborne decoys are a well established countermeasure for combat aircraft and have been used for many years. The Raytheon AN/ALE 50 for example are used on B1 Bombers and F16/F18 Fighters. RAF Typhoons have a particularly advanced system now marketed under the EuroDASS Praetorian banner from Selex

The video below provides a good overview of how the towed decoy/jammer fits into the integrated defensive aids sub-system (DASS)

Airbus Group – Eurofighter Typhoon Defensive Aids Sub System (DASS) Combat Simulation [720p]

The RAF’s Towed Radar Decoy is a modified version of the BAE Ariel that is deployed using a 100m kevlar line that contains a fibre optic and power cables.

Newer systems such as the Selex Britecloud are housed in a cylindrical container 55mm in diameter and launched in the same manner as a flare, this is designed to increase the distance between the launch aircraft and an incoming missile.

What characterises these kind of tethered systems is that they are primarily designed to protect the aircraft and to allow the aircraft to penetrate defended airspace. Low observable aircraft like the F35 use their ‘stealth’ features to achieve the same objective, active versus passive I guess.

An interesting development is the use of decoys and decoy jammers as part of an attack plan against complex integrated air defences.

Raytheon are marketing their MALD and MALD-J, both evolved from the earlier Air Launched Decoy ADM-160A.

Miniature Air Launched Decoy MALD

Miniature Air Launched Decoy MALD

The Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) is used to lure enemy air defence systems into revealing themselves or attacking aircraft or ISTAR systems that can provide targeting information for stand off weapons. With a range of 500nm, endurance of 45 minutes, operating altitude of 40,000 feet plus, speed of Mach 0.91, modular electronics fit and emissions signature that is designed to mimic allied aircraft it can also be used to simply overwhelm air defences with targets, if they attack MALD they are depleting their finite missile stocks.

MALD® Operational Scenario & Capabilities

My friends over at Defense Industry Daily have a great write up on the history and contract aspects of MALD, click here to view.

They report that costs have risen to $120k each, which seems like excellent value for money to me, compare that with the £70m plus cost of a Typhoon and the likely £100m plus cost of an F-35M and the economics become very attractive. After some initial reliability issues it is now entering service with the USAF.

MALD and MALD-J have also been designed for carriage on aircraft carriers and unlike many complex systems was developed and delivered under budget.

As can be seen from the video above, MALD and MALD-J can be launched in significant quantities using transport aircraft like the C17 and C130. This is called the M-CALS or MALD Cargo Aircraft Launch System

Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD®)

It is an elegant and cheap way of launching decoys in quantity and at low cost.

MALD Cargo Air Launch System MCALS
MALD Cargo Air Launch System MCALS

M-CALS can be stacked so that on a single pallet, 8 decoys can be carried and launched. If more are required the MCALS launch pallet is simply discarded and the next in line positioned. In aircraft like the C17 that can carry two pallets wide, more can be launched without ditching the launch pallet.

It was also reported in 2009 that the UK had shown an interest in MALD but this self evidently went nowhere.

I quite like the concept of using expendable decoys and if the UK is ever to go against, as the phrase goes, anyone armed with slightly more effective weapons than a sharpened mango, they may well be essential.

Traditionally, anti aircraft missiles are much cheaper than the aircraft they are designed to destroy, the economics are in favour of missiles. Although it is a mono syllabic simplistic argument, if a missile costs a million each and an aircraft costs a hundred million, the exchange rate favours the missile. Reverse that, where the aircrafts surrogate costs less than the missile, the economics of the exchange becomes interesting.

Enemy forces will always have a finite stock of anti aircraft missiles at the point of attack and the more expensive long range varieties will also not be available in large quantities. Luring enemies into expending those scarce and expensive missiles at decoys is  a cheap way of degrading their capabilities relatively safely.

The numbers favour the attacker.

It is of course not as simple as that but decoys are an interesting alternative to the relentless cost increases of stealthy aircraft, or at least a means of complimenting their survivability.

I wonder how many F35’s the RAF/RN would trade for a large batch of decoys like MALD/MALD-J


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“It was also reported in 2009 that the UK had shown an interest in MALD but this self evidently went nowhere.”

Are you kidding me? Although come a shooting war we could quickly acquire from our cousins such weapons but not the knowledge to deploy it as part of an integrated attack upon our enemies without their personnel (please correct me if we already have dispatched the necessary personnel to be trained in their use , maintenance and deployment which I bet you 1 F35B i.e. $150m we haven’t)
We cannot assume our cousins will be fighting along side us (they gave technical i.e. satellite info and some kit but nothing else in 1982) so the loan of personnel maybe become tricky .
With regards to your last comment 1 x F35B equates to 1000+ MALD/J and their associated storage , deployment and maintenance kit. A fair swop based on the potential losses of an attacking squadron(s) of F35B/Typhoons might take.
When will the MOD think in a total system way and not just think of buying the big expensive pieces of kit first i.e. such as under equipping the T45 and then filling in the gaps ?(as an after thought bolting on the Harpoons from the T42’s and only enough for 4 ships with most operators phasing them out including the USN as beyond their service life )


Think Defence

Thanks for posting this. Without wanting to open (too much of) a debate (which probably is to covered in layers of secrecy anyway) is the Selex system really capable of effectively jamming 3 separate SAM sites simultaneously as the video suggests. How does the system’s jamming technology compare to the “active cancellation” technology that is (?) deployed on the SPECTRA system used by the Rafale ?

The little I have been unable to find about the comparative technology suggested that SPECTRA was more effective in exercises (I cant remember which ones though) back in 2010. I notice the French have claimed Spectra is battle proven after Libya (and again inferred that Rafale technology is better).



This is a bit of tinfoil hat moment, but I do wonder if SAM’s even the modern Russian ones are actually all they are cracked up to be – I have been harboring for a while the idea that the US and the rest of NATO make a big deal out of the triple digit Russian SAM’s in order to make countries in the Russian sphere of influence overly reliant on them, thus making it far easier to conduct operations against them. My evidence is a bit flimsy, and basically revolves around Rafale penetrating the Libyan integrated air defence network with impunity correlated with the relatively poor side and rear radar cross-section of the F35 and the fact that air search radars failed to accurately track MH370 and it obviously has a much bigger radar cross section than a fighter jet, leading to the conclusion that NATO has been running a con on the tin pot dictators of the world.

@ Nick

“Battle proven in Libya”

Kinda answers that question. Any threats are taken seriously yes, but still, hardly like-for-like threat scenario compared to the systems these were designed for.



I did have a smile regarding French marketing bullshit. Separately, I did read this though:

had French pilots contrasting Day 1 Rafale strikes in Libya against US approach of using Cruise Missiles to take out the SAM sites first:

Rafale pilots are also very complementary about their SPECTRA self-protection suite, which is of critical importance as France does not have any aircraft dedicated to the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) missions. “SPECTRA allowed us to begin operations over Libya the very same day the political decision was taken, and to fly deep into Libyan territory without an escort,” says one pilot, adding that “the Americans also flew in, but only after they had fired 119 Tomahawks to take out Libyan air defenses.”



As your cousin from across the pond, I do think that we would stand by you as you have stood by us in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan. We may not have such a wonderful Commander in Chief, but we do have military members that honor our word or commitments.

Gloomy Northern Boy

@Monkey – worth observing that whatever State thought, Defence is generally believed to have been discreetly working out how to lend us a carrier in 1982 if we needed one…and the intelligence and other assistance we did get was by all accounts invaluable (as was that of the French I believe).

@Cousin Ken – thanks for the good thought…we are all blessed in our political leaders at present, aren’t we? :-(


Chris Werb

First of all, thank you for posting another great collection of information on another very interesting subject. I have a couple of points to address.

1. The ratio of cost of SAMs vs aircaft.

It’s not as simple as just putting the cost of the missile up against the aircraft. Protecting more than a token area with SAM systems still takes a lot of systems, even if it’s a long range SAM system (which itself requires its own point defences at the very least). Even with the huge masts available to Russian SAM systems they are still very terrain limited in the ranges they can achieve. Yes, you can have an active radar or passive IR missile that can operate out of line of sight, but you still need to know where the target is, and aerostats or AWACS are going to be vulnerable. if your SAM system is taken out it is going to take time to get a replacement in to set up to cover the area (sensor agnostic truly distributed systems like CAMM-L are not common yet – in fact that is the only one I’m aware of). To give you an idea of the numbers involved, according to wiki, the Russian Federation currently has 953 recent model S-300 and many older S-300 launchers in service, plus they plan to have 28 S-400 regiments by 2020, each comprising two or three battalions with four systems each but only a small number of those at best would cover any given target. Modern stealthy ALCMs can route around them or go after the batteries themselves, forcing them to deploy Tor-M1 and Pantsir point defences to defend them. Yes, the missile that hits your plane may be cheap, but deploying a credible GBAD-IADS component to defend against a modern airforce for all but the most geographically and economically blessed countries isn’t.

2) I may be channelling M&S, but it seems like it wouldn’t be lot more effort and expense to actually arm MALD-J . This would have the following effects. 1. It would kill relatively soft fixed and relocatable targets relatively deep inside protected areas, thus obviating the need to send F-35s into them. 2. It would fee up more expensive munitions like Spear Cap. 3, SDB-II, CALCM, JASSM, Storm Shadow etc. for targets that were moving or required big/deeply penetrating warheads 3. it would force the enemy to engage the decoy even if it was positively ID’d as a MALD-J. This would work even if only a proportion of the MALD-Js had warheads. With DGPS guidance, even without a warhead, a MALD would probably ruin your whole day if the radar van you were sitting in was struck by it.

In todays world the relative merits of various alliances have shifted with regards to South America , as one of the BRICS Brazil is the largest economy of Latin America, a much larger economy and western trading partner than in 1982 .With the US goods and private services trade with Brazil totalled $107 billion in 2012 .Exports totalled $68 billion; Imports totalled $39 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Brazil was $29 billion in 2012.
In 2012 trade with the EU accounts for 34% of the EU’s total trade with the Latin American region 2012 figures ( over 50% of the EU’s South American investments are with Brazil)
Brazil is a major ally of Argentina and could sway US/EU open military support in the outcome of a repeat of 1982. In an idea of how close they are the now they jointly develop their nuclear technology both civilian and military (how many Nations do that?) to the extent they are jointly developing an indigenous designed and built Nuclear powered Hunter Killer submarine with some help from the French/Spanish company DCNS (they built the Triomphant class SSBN) .Brazil are soon to launch their first home built Diesel Electric submarine designed by DCNS.
I think in the event of another South Atlantic situation , whether initiated by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner or her successor (she is out of office next year as already in her second term and cannot stand again) we will once more be going it alone.


Brazil are also building their own Exocet equivalent.

Chris Werb

It may be apocryphal, but I read somewhere that the US ALCM started out as a decoy (called SCAD) which was given a nuclear warhead to force the Soviet air defences to engage it even if their sensors determined it wasn’t an aircraft.

The Brazilian navy seems to be going for very much a high-low mix with CV and SSNs at the high end for hot wars and deterrence thereof and various seaworthy but not very heavily armed frigates and a class of modern, but very poorly armed class of corvettes for peacetime roles.


I know what you are thinking, but as a retired US Marine, I see it a bit different from our side of the pond. We will go to hell and back for our Cousin’s across the pond. We have in the past and will in the future. Argentina is a strange puppy to say the least. I have some good friends that are former Argentine Marines and they do not like the political picture that she was painting. reminiscent of the Junta, economy down and so spin national pride with a subject such as the Falkland Is. Hell I inquired as to volunteering for the Falkland Is. Def. Force, but they did not want a Yank Marine…..(hahaha) South America has been a thorn in our side also, with the drug traffic and fueling up Mexico and that border problem for us. Believe me, we will not forget or turn our backs on our cousin’s across the pond! We have stood together on numerous occasions and will in the future. Just get us a copy of the Kenyan BIrth Certificate and we will be fine………..I have too many brother Royal Marines in the UK. Take the words, Semper Fidelas to heart.

Your Yank Cousin,


Monkey and Chris,
The Brazilians are trying to play in the big boy’s league, but have concerns of their own with regards to Venezuela. Even though Chavez is gone, his cronies are not and they are a big threat to Brazil. Also with the re-emergence of the Russians in the Western Hemisphere and allying themselves with Venezuela. The Bear is back! Remember, the Brazilians were a big help to us in WW2. They shed blood in Europe and have been allies of both the US and UK. Argentina was on the Axis side during that conflict. They did not commit to the allies until the very end and they were the staging area for runaway Nazis.
Your Yank Cousin,


Semphi fi ,
We will always be in your debt


And we will remain in your debt also…… that is the way family works, right?

Your Yank Cousin,


Great post TD

as far as I know the UK was interested in MALD V which would have been a modular payload version but it was canceled. I think such a Cheap and potentially effective system would be worth a few of our precious defence pennies. The stand in jamming capability would seem to be very handy for an airforce with limited numbers of VLO aircraft and no stand off jamming capability.

I wonder if a similar MCALS launch system on the A400M could also launch something like Storm shadow and even stingray torpedoes. would seem to solve a lot of problems very cheaply which is probably why we don’t have it.


@ nick – I Don’t think SPECTRA has the kind of active cancelation technology you describe.They did try to build it as did everyone else but the computing requirements are enormous. It can send spoof signals to a radar in the same way as the Selex system can but I think full active cancelation stealth is some way off.



Thanks. It sounded more like work in progress/concept than fact. From reading what is available publically, it sounded to me like DAS and Spectra were very similar technology with the same design approach, but I have always got the impression that France pushes Spectra as best in class and much better than DAS.



I agree, would be a way to do some SAR only Herc conversions, and nthen to weaponise that platform v quickly, if and when needed (against a sub threat).

Now, C17s dropping those little decoys… There’s a few to deal with!


Don’t know whih vintage that Operational Scenario video is,but there is a little problem with it:
The JSTARs detection and classification range is the same as that of the newer SAMs.

Our own three birds being elint would be able to pick up anything emitting at a considerable range, but then again those would only be a part of the AAD system to be taken down.


@ Nick

I’m not sure if SPECTRA is top of class or not but I know when Typhoon entered the Swiss Fighter contract the DASS was specifically mentioned as an advantage Typhoon had over the other competitors.

Typhoon with SPEAR 3, CAPTOR E, MALD and the DASS is probably quite an efficient SEAD aircraft in its own right. My understanding of the electronics on the DASS is that using differential GPS two Typhoons can track and highlight ground based radars in the way it use to take a dedicated ELINT aircraft to do and they can attack them directly.


@ martin,

The Swiss competitioon was budget constarined, so the add-on was hardly there, to be evaluted? (There were extra 10% of points tobe gained for “future growth” though.)
– if you remember , the French tried to spoil the party after the decision by offeringfewer a/c, supposedly bare bones as for the fitout, too, to force the budget criterion back into play

a pair of Typhoons carruingthe MALD, too? Unlikely?


@ ACC – If I remember rightly the comments were from the swiss pilots who had no doubt flown slightly better Typhoons than the swiss could afford.


I’m looking forward to sitting down and reading this post properly. In the meantime, I came across this Boeing blurb over on aviationweek:


Slide 5 on that linked pdf above says a lot of what I have been trying to put forward
… It is a picture, so it it does it much better.


I must say that the USN seems to be on the ball
… Then àgain, so many of these thingies are labelled “joint” that you never know on what airframe they will appear on



The USN is taking the lead in the us with dedicated electronic attack aircraft. USAF crews even fly in growlers. That being said could the mission be better done by F35 flying with next generation jammer? Do we still need a second seat and EW officer?


@ Mark – The compass call is more of a communication jamming capability than a radar jamming capability in the way that growler is. The USAF has tried to gain funding for a stand off jamming capability to be fielded by the B52 but it has been unable to get a budget.

That being said compass call is a fantastic capability. when combined with the growler, MALD J and eventually next generation jammer it will be able to play havoc with an enemy air defence.


Martin yeah but don’t the f16cj wild weasel, growler and ec130 all work together to do the ew sead mission rather than operate individually.

I don’t see the need for the standoff jamming capability to be in a manned fighter but then not my area of expertise.


Of course alot of this is, quite rightly, hush hush and there is no doubt a healthy element of deception and outright bluff at play on both sides of the fence.

If a missile has been fired at you, you’re stealth hasn’t worked. Now what are you going to do? I recall reading that F35 doesn’t have anything like DASS/Spectre onboard – is that so? Certainly no towed decoy. If so, plainly bonkers hubris. Then again the F35 fanboys will tell you that missiles fired at the F35 will simply drop out of the sky or return to sender at the flick of a switch. That’ll be the switch next to the invisibility switch. Software batch 4SFA IIRC. :-)


F-35 has it’s own BAE delivered EW-suite, an improved version of the F-22s one.

No, missiles will not simply drop. F-35s stealth is optimized for X-band, which is used most in tracking radars. It was never the target to achieve all-aspect stealth, even the possibility to be detected by low-frequency radar is well known. The problem arises, if the defender wants to TRACK the aircraft. And this includes tracking by actively homing missiles, too. The question is, how much missiles will be used up firing at relatively well-protected and hard-to-track targets? And if the USAF gets over 1,000 F-35, we don’t talk about the occasional kill, but to deplete F-35 numbers before your SAM-screen vanishes.

F-35s decoy is mentioned in the article. MALD-V seems to be a versatile enough solution.

We also still have Typhoons solution as a hedge, as well as the USN has a vast Growler force. No need to panic. Neither aircraft is a perfect solution.

The Growler is short-legged, AN/ALQ-218 is not superior to the F-22s suite. The AN/ALQ-99 jamming pod, requiring a second crew member and interferes with AESA radars. A shiny new toy not even flying and having its own crapped development process, called Next Generation Jammer, comes into service not before 2020. There is word, that UCLASS will be the primary platform in the mid-2020s. There is no UCLASS by now, the next protracted procurement on the horizon.


The Growler force is hardly ‘vast’.

5 per carrier wing budgeted, even that is over quite a long time (they are more than half way through with replacing the AE Intruder, but the few that flew in Libya came from the experimental sqdrn).


Btw, the reason we will have 4 BMD capable cruisers based out of Rota is that there will no permanent (USN) carrier rotation anywhere near Europe.

The Other Chris


I know this is an old post – do you still have a source around for the 8 MALD per MCALS pallet stack? I can only find sources for 3 per pallet, predominantly images/videos of the demonstrations.


“It was also reported in 2009 that the UK had shown an interest in MALD[-V] but this self evidently went nowhere.”

What’s the timeline for the SPEAR capability 3 / MBDA SPEAR requirements/specifications? They seem very similar to MALD-V, just with warhead/seeker.

The Other Chris

Muchas gracias TD, perfect :)

Definitely get the impression the MOD briefing on MALD-V was either to generate ideas or see what the approach was for similar ones. There was talk from Raytheon of popping a small warhead in there as a payload option too.