Raytheon Missile Systems and the U.S. Air Force on Monday announced the delivery of an unmanned drone that is expected to keep pilots safer.
The Miniature Air Launched Decoy, MALD for short, is a 10-foot-long, 250-pound missile-like craft that can fly into enemy territory and trigger radar installations, making them visible so they can be destroyed.
“This program is very important because it replaces manned aircraft that would fly into harm’s way,” said Ken Watson, the Air Force program director for the drone.
The craft mimics the radar signature of an F-4G “Wild Weasel,” a fighter that has long been used to trigger radar. The idea is that the unmanned craft “lights up” the radar, which can then be destroyed by other aircraft, Watson said.
The first of 154 units came off the assembly line Monday, and another contract for 154 is in negotiations, said Scott Muse, Raytheon’s program manager for the project.
“Potentially more than 3,000 MALDs will be sold,” Muse said.
The project has been in development for more than a decade. After initial engineering and design, the first successful test took place in 1999.
The MALD can be launched from either an F-16 fighter or a B-52 bomber. The drone is pre-programmed before flight, Watson said.
“No one’s controlling it in the air,” he said.
Watson declined to give a cost for the program or the drones, saying only that the cost is public record. The cost was not immediately available Monday afternoon, though in 2003 Raytheon estimated the cost at $75,000-$125,000 per unit.
About 150 Raytheon employees are working on the project in Tucson, Muse said.