ADM-160: Why Is This Warhead-Less USAF Missile So Effective Against Enemy Defenses

The ADM-160 MALD is a decoy missile with just one goal – to flush out enemy anti-air defenses.
B-52 beefs up capabilities

The ADM-160 MALD is a device that has been called “America’s secret weapon” in the fight against air defenses. It is a decoy missile that is used to confuse and overwhelm enemy air defense systems… But what exactly is it? Is it really effective?


The ADM-160 MALD (Miniature Air Launched Decoy) is a small, unmanned aircraft that is launched from a fighter jet or bomber. This device is designed to look like an incoming missile, emitting radar signals identical to those of an actual missile.

This causes the enemy air defense system to track the MALD as if it were a real threat and to engage it with real missiles, while aircraft remain safe carrying bombs and the feared missiles air defenses were trying to intercept in the first place.


This diversionary tactic allows American jets to safely attack their targets without being intercepted by enemy missiles – and while the MALD may not be a weapon itself, it’s critical in allowing American forces to achieve victory.

ADM-160 MALD’s history

The ADM-160 MALD development dates back to the 1990s, when the US military was looking for a way to protect its aircraft from heat-seeking missiles.

The answer came in the form of a small, winged drone that could be launched from an aircraft and would then fly ahead of the plane, jamming the enemy’s radar and leading them away from the aircraft.


It has been used by the US military for over two decades now, and it has proven to be a good tool in protecting American planes and pilots… And recently, the missile has been upgraded to make it more valuable for today’s warfare needs.

MALD: Northrop Grumman ADM-160A vs Raytheon ADM-160B

Miniature Air-Launched Decoy ADM 160X onto a B-52 Stratofortress
Miniature Air-Launched Decoy ADM 160X onto a B-52 Stratofortress by Celeste Zuniga. Public Domain.

Currently, this device has at least two variants, an older one and an improved version which, although much more expensive, is also more effective and safer.

The Northrop Grumman’s ADM-160A. It’s the first version of this missile. It is launched from a variety of platforms, including fighter jets, helicopters, and ground vehicles.


ADM-160B MALD by Air Force Armament Museum. Public Domain.

It is equipped with a state-of-the-art guidance system that allows it to be launched in adverse weather conditions and navigate to its target without the need for human intervention.

The newer Raytheon’s ADM-160B MALD is similar in design to the ADM-160A but includes several improvements that make it even more effective. It features an upgraded engine that gives it a more extended range and better performance in adverse weather conditions.

In addition, this missile dispensing system can release a wider variety of payloads, including jamming devices and non-lethal projectiles.



2 MUNS equips Barksdale for the mission
2 MUNS equips Barksdale for the mission by William Pugh. Public Domain.

Specifications (Northrop Grumman ADM-160A)

  • Length: 2.38 meters (7 feet 10 inches)
  • Wingspan: 0.65 meters (2 feet 2 inches)
  • Weight: 45 kilograms (100 pounds)
  • Speed: Mach 0.8
  • Ceiling: 9,000 meters (30,000 feet)
  • Range: 460 kilometers (285 miles)
  • Endurance: Over 20 minutes
  • Unit cost: US$30,000

Specifications (Raytheon ADM-160B)

  • Length: 2.84 meters (9 feet 7 inches)
  • Wingspan: 1.71 meters (5 feet 7 inches)
  • Weight: 115 kilograms (250 pounds)
  • Speed: Mach 0.91
  • Ceiling: 12,200 meters (40,000 feet)
  • Range: 920 kilometers (575 miles)
  • Endurance: 45 minutes
  • Unit cost: US$322,000

The ADM-160 MALD is critical for success and safety

These decoy missiles play a crucial role in keeping US air forces safe in situations of real danger, which is why this device has earned an essential place in the defensive equipment of aircraft – and newer versions of the MALD are likely to be even more advanced.

Featured image credit: B-52 beefs up capabilities by Micaiah Anthony. Public Domain.