The Bosnian “Nighthawk Down” incident in 1999 showed that even old air defense systems could still be dangerous, and that smart tactics and selective use could keep those systems alive against heavy opposition. The challenge is finding them and targeting them. Against truly advanced air defense systems like the Russian SA-20 family, however, the challenge is survival. Advanced stealth technologies, advanced anti-radar weapons, and successful electronic jamming are required.
Air-launched decoys can help, and they are not a new concept by any means. The same technologies used in cruise missiles allow construction of “stealth in reverse” decoys that fly long distances along pre-planned flight patterns, carrying radar reflectors that simulate the radar return of fighter or bomber aircraft. Enemy air defenses see them as incoming aircraft, and must decide to either shut down and hide, or activate and reveal their position. If American aircraft are flying behind a wave a decoys, either option can be dangerous. The USAF’s ADM-160B/C Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) program began as a DARPA effort in 1996, but made it all the way into production, and is branching out into new fields. The US Navy already has their own ITALD, but they liked one of the new MALD variants enough to add it, too.