Airborne Decoys and Deception

Selex Praetorian

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)

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.

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

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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