TechUkrainian MiG-29 armed with ADM-160B decoys target Russian defenses

Ukrainian MiG‑29 armed with ADM‑160B decoys target Russian defenses

Ukrainian MiG-29 aircraft with ADM-160B MALD missiles.
Ukrainian MiG-29 aircraft with ADM-160B MALD missiles.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | Ukrainian Front

5:16 PM EDT, May 21, 2024

A video has surfaced showing a Ukrainian MiG-29 aircraft carrying intriguing ADM-160B MALD missiles. Their target is Russian air defense. We explain what they are and how they work.

While awaiting the promised F-16 aircraft, the Ukrainian Air Force continues to operate effectively with the few remaining serviceable MiG-29, Su-27, and Su-24 aircraft. One way they manage to operate within the range of Russian air defenses is by using the unique ADM-160B MALD missiles provided by the USA.

These non-kinetic missiles are designed to distract Russian air defense systems away from real targets, such as bomb-carrying aircraft equipped with JDAM-ER, AASM Hammer, Paveway, or missiles like Storm Shadow and AGM-88 HARM.

ADM-160B MALD missile – "airborne illusionist"

Raytheon developed the ADM-160B MALD (Miniature Air-Launched Decoy) missile in the early 21st century as a continuation of a project initiated by DARPA in 1995. The initial model, ADM-160A MALD, created by Teledyne Ryan, was completed shortly after that, but the program was canceled in 2002 due to insufficient range.

However, work resumed over time under RTX Corporation (formerly Raytheon), resulting in the enhanced ADM-160B MALD being introduced into the United States Air Force (USAF) arsenal in 2009.

Instead of a traditional warhead, the ADM-160B MALD missiles carry equipment designed to simulate specific aircraft types' radar and signal signatures. Furthermore, the missile can mimic flight trajectories, making the decoy a credible target to enemy air defense operators.

Missiles hunting for Russians

This capability allows air defense to focus on areas other than those from which a real threat is approaching. Most radar systems have limited detection angles, and older designs using semi-active radar-homing missiles require the air defense system's radar to illuminate the target continuously until impact. Consequently, these systems have limited capabilities against targets approaching from other directions.

The ADM-160B MALD missiles can also serve as decoys to activate air defense systems (turn on radars), exposing them to attacks from aircraft equipped with anti-radiation missiles like the AGM-88 HARM.

Moreover, newer versions, such as the ADM-160C MALD-J, introduced in 2012, include capabilities for jamming enemy radar operations or altering parameters mid-flight through a communication link.

All of these features are packed into a missile weighing 254 pounds (115 kg), with a length of 9.3 feet (2.84 m) and a wingspan of 5.6 feet (1.71 m). The ADM-160B MALD can fly for 45 minutes and has a range of up to 570 miles (920 km). Despite its non-kinetic operational nature, this is a critical asset in the Ukrainian Air Force's arsenal.

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