Navy, Raytheon move closer to airborne EW attack capability

Tests in Alaska demonstrate swappable electronic warfare payloads with a range of over 500 miles.

The Naval Research Laboratory and contractor Raytheon have recently demonstrated new electronic attack architectures during an exercise in Alaska, according to an announcement from the company.

The demonstration involved the Miniature Air Launched Decoy-Jammer, or MALD-J, an aerial jammer described as “a state-of-the-art, low-cost flight vehicle that is modular, air-launched and programmable,” with a range of approximately 500 nautical miles or 575 miles. MALDs are lightweight, expendable missiles that also protect aircraft by duplicating combat flight profiles of U.S. manned aircraft, drawing attention away from the actual aircraft. The MALD-J includes radar jamming capability.

Several electronic warfare payloads were tested during the demonstration that took place during the biannual Northern Edge exercise. The four payloads, called CERBERUS (after the multi-headed hell hound of Greek mythology), were tested in 12 operationally relevant missions. Raytheon noted that the payloads are interchangeable, customized for specific missions and could be swapped onto a host aircraft in less than a minute. 

"The CERBERUS design is cost-effective and expands MALD capabilities to address new missions and target sets. It's a sensible approach for mitigating payload obsolescence," said Dr. Jeff Heyer, head of NRL’s Electronic Warfare Strategic Planning Organization. "The design embodies the CNO's 'Payloads over Platforms' vision."

Under a four-year program, Raytheon, Pacific Command and Naval Air Systems have developed the payload system architecture to integrate with quick and interchangeable structures for rapidly evolving electronic attack battle spaces.

“During Northern Edge, new tactics, techniques and capabilities are demonstrated for possible use in combat. A MALD vehicle was carried below a Sabreliner, with the payload controlled from within the aircraft cabin,” the Raytheon release stated.  “This is an effective tool for evaluating payload performance, and allows for real-time control and data analysis during a flight test.”

MALDs can be deployed from fighters, bombers and other aircraft mid-air. One of the primary capabilities MALDs, along with other similar airborne deployable crafts, are penetrating anti-access/area denial.  “Dismantling of the air defenses begins with the MALDs and MALD-Js launched as the first wave of the attack,” according to a video produced by Raytheon that describes  a potential attack. “MALDS divert the enemy response away from the main attack access and deplete air defense munitions. With the advanced air defense threat degraded, previously vulnerable strike aircraft are now able to conduct offensive operations with impunity.”   

While the MALD-J is in full rate production for the Air Force—the service mostly recently bought 250 more of the jammers in March—the Navy is continuing evaluating its own MALD variant – MALD-N – for stand-in-jamming of specific naval missions.

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