Electronic Weapons: Jammers Large And Very Small

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May 10, 2018: In early 2018 Britain placed its first order for the BriteCloud expendable active decoy for use on the Tornado GR4 fighter-bomber. Development of BriteCloud began in 2012 and was complete (with a series of successful tests) at the end of 2017. BriteCloud is about the size of a soda can and can be used in existing NATO standard chaff/flare dispensers. BriteCloud, on being released, extends four fins at the rear to keep it aloft longer and begins emitting a signal that jams or deceives the radar of a radar guided missile so that the missile detonates a safe distance from the aircraft. In order to use BriteCloud aircraft must have some of their flare dispensers modified to receive information from the aircraft countermeasures system so that BriteCloud can be programmed to emit the correct signal when released.

BriteCloud was made possible by the development of smaller and more powerful computer and electronic components as well as electronic warfare software that enabled such a small (55mm in diameter) device to deal with the tracking systems of long range air-to-air missiles. These missiles are equipped to defeat a growing list of countermeasures. As such BriteCloud will have to be constantly updated to deal with missile guidance system improvements. Meanwhile, another version of BriteCloud is being developed so that it can fit the different size and shape square dispensers used in American warplanes.

What distinguishes BriteCloud from most other electronic decoys is that it is so small and only used when a missile is close and BriteCloud becomes a last chance device for avoiding a rapidly approaching missile. In the past, most decoys equipped with jammers and other electronic deception devices were larger and designed to deceive enemy sensors for longer periods and at greater distances from any friendly aircraft. A current example of that would be the American MALD (miniature air-launched decoy), which entered service at the same time BriteCloud development began and is still important to keep most missile threats from getting close enough for BriteCloud.

Like BriteCloud MALD has undergone constant upgrades. In 2017 the U.S. Air Force upgraded MALD-J, the powered jammer version of MALD with a jam-resistant GPS system. The MALD-J is three meters (9.5 feet) long and its pop-out wings give it a 1.55 meter (five foot) wingspan. The 130 kg (285 pound) decoy is powered by a small turbojet engine that gives it a speed of up to 1,000 kilometers an hour, for 45 minutes, at 11,000 meters (35,000 feet), or 20 minutes at 1,000 meters (3,100 feet). This enables MALD-J to travel about 800 kilometers on a typical mission. MALD-J can be programmed to fly a specific course to try and get enemy air defenses to open up so the enemy weapons can be spotted and destroyed. MALDs are also designed to be used in swarms to overwhelm enemy air defenses. The new MALDs cost nearly $300,000 each. The MALD-J is more expensive and about five percent heavier. The MALD-J was so successful in tests that the air force began converting hundreds of its unpowered MALDs to MALD-J.

The original MALD-J entered service in in 2012. It was only in 2011 that the air force agreed to buy the original MALD. A year earlier (2010), after more than a decade of development, MALD was delivered in sufficient (although classified) quantities so that aircraft could actually carry out operations with the new device. These tests were a success.

MALD is a powered decoy that appears on the enemy radar to be a warplane. The 2011 version of MALD worked and that came after six years of wasted effort on earlier designs that did not. After the original MALD entered service work then began on MALD-J, a radar jamming version. This version was found to be even more effective.

Currently, only the B-52, F-18, and F-16 are equipped to carry MALD. The air force will begin receiving MALD-J (the jammer version) by the end of 2018. The navy operates MALD-J from F-18Es, which will accompany EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft. The EA-18G could carry MALD-J but this would be at the expense of range. The EA-18G needs as much range as it can get in order to go deep into enemy air space and destroy air defenses.

The MALD manufacturer has also developed the needed equipment (special racks) so that up to 192 MALDs can be loaded on military transports and quickly launched. This would certainly catch the enemy's attention and distract them.

Meanwhile, MALD replaces a similar U.S. Navy jet powered ADM-141C ITALD (Improved Tactical Air Launched Decoy), which entered service about the time MALD entered development. ITALD is 2.34 meters (7.7 feet) long with a 1.55 meter (five foot) wingspan. It weighs 180 kg (400 pounds), has a top speed of 460 kilometers an hour, and a range of about 300 kilometers. ITALD, as well as the earlier, unpowered, TALD, contains passive and active devices to enhance the radar image the enemy will receive when they spot the decoy. The navy bought about 200 ITALDs. In the late 1980s, the navy bought over 2,000 ADM-141 TALDs, which proved successful during the 1991 Gulf War. Israel also had success in combat with their version of TALD, which was developed from similar decoys designed in the 1970s, based on Israeli and U.S. Navy experience with Russian equipped Arab air defense systems. The U.S. Air Force didn't get interested until after the Cold War ended and that led to MALD.

Early on the MALD was supposed to be a smaller (by 15 percent), simpler, and cheaper ($30,000 each) design. But, as is common with these projects, both the air force and the manufacturer kept coming up with new things the MALD had to have. Some were necessary while others were just part of the usual procurement politics. The current MALD has a range of nearly 900 kilometers and is apparently reliable enough to be used in combat. The radar jamming capability of MALD-J will be the first of many electronic warfare capabilities added to the higher (up to half a million dollars, or more, each) priced version of MALD planned for the future. This version is already in development. Thus the air force has pulled ahead in aerial decoy technology, although the TALD/ITALD series have the distinction of having been tested, and successful, in combat.

 


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