Murphy's Law: MALD Muddles Along


June 1, 2007: Four years ago, the U.S. Air Force has issued an $88 million development contract for a new powered decoy. The new MALD (miniature air-launched decoy) was to be 9.5 feet long, and its pop-out wings gave it a five foot wingspan. The 200 pound MALD was to be powered by a small turbojet engine that gave it a speed of up to about 1000 kilometers an hour, for 45 minutes at 35,000 feet, or 20 minutes at 3,000 feet. It was to be programmed to fly a specific course to try and get enemy air defenses to open up, so they can be spotted and destroyed. MALDs was also designed to be used in swarms to overwhelm enemy air defenses. Testing and development began in 2003, with the expectation that the new MALD would be ready for service by 2007, at a cost of about $125,000 each.

The project is at least a year behind schedule, and the first flight test took place last month. The MALD now weighs 285 pounds and costs about twice as much. But the modified MALD design can handle more complex defenses. An earlier MALD design project had been cancelled in 2002, as its cost and complexity spiraled out of control. Eight years ago, the MALD was supposed to be a smaller (eight feet long), simpler and cheaper ($30,000) design. But, as is common with these project, both the air force and the manufacturer kept coming up with new things the MALD had to have. Some were necessary, others were just part of the usual procurement politics.


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