This may look like a UAV to you and me, but to an S-400 anti-aircraft battery, this tiny drone looks as big as a B-29 Flying Fortress.
The Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) is a 2.75m, 136kg drone designated for electronic warfare and designed to copy the flight profiles of US aircraft, which confuses the enemy’s integrated air defence systems.
The MALD is launched from an aircraft in-flight and travels a pre-programmed course of up to 100 checkpoints over a 500nm range. As it’s flying around, its state-of-the-art Signature Augmentation Subsystem (SAS), comprised of various active radar enhancers covering a range of frequencies, is pumping out signals that mimic the radar signature and flight profiles of a larger, more dangerous, allied aircraft — anything from the B-52 Stratofortress to the F-117 Nighthawk. By launching a small armada of these drones into enemy airspace, they force anti-aircraft batteries to either remain inactive — potentially letting what looks like a fleet of bombers pass overhead — or open fire and reveal their positions, thus allowing the real bombers to strike.
The MALD system has been under development since 1995. It started out as an even smaller, $US30,000 drone built by Northrop Grumman that relied on a J-50 rocket engine. Unfortunately this design proved to have too short a range to be effective, so the US Air Force scrapped the program until the early 2000s. In 2002, the USAF reopened bidding on the program and Raytheon won out with the slightly $US120,000 version in use today.