The United States Air Force has recently taken charge of the Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD), a missile-sized, unmanned aerial vehicle designed to pose electronically as a real aircraft for the purpose of confusing enemy radar and battle controllers.
The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has recently announced that is in the process of handing over its MALD program to the USAF where the dummy planes will be assimilated into the Lethal Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) Program Office.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, the MALD will be capable of being carried and launched from an F-16 fighter aircraft and require no communication with, or guidance from other aircraft or ground stations once launched.
MALD has been designed to operate like a modern military jet plane in that it can manoeuvre through high ‘g’ turns, climbs, and dives.
It is also equipped with a Signature Augmentation Subsystem, which boosts the MALD’s natural profile across a range of VHF, UHF, and microwave frequencies so that it appears as a tactical fighter when viewed by enemy radar systems.
Each MALD is estimated to cost $30,000 and keeping costs low was achieved through the use of conventional, commercial-off-the-shelf components and processes.
These include the composite-sheet moulding processes used by the automobile industry, a central processing unit similar to those used in soft drink dispensing machines, and commercially-available Global Positioning System hardware.
The most revolutionary system aboard the MALD is the tiny turbo-jet engine developed as part of DARPA’s Small Engine Advanced Program.
The motor, dubbed the TJ-50, puts out 50lbs of thrust and is said to have performed well in the first successful test launch performed in 1999. In the trial, the MALD separated cleanly from an F-16 flying at 850 km/h and flew on at a speed of Mach 0.75.