Decoys: A fighter's last line of defense

New Dual-Band Decoy would protect F/A-18 aircrew members

When it comes to dealing with threats, modern fighter pilots have options. They can detect and avoid them from afar. They can perform evasive maneuvers. When threats become lethal, they can turn to decoys.

“As a countermeasure, decoys provide a final layer of self-protection before it’s too late,” said Mike Paul, senior manager for Electronic Warfare Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. “Today’s aircraft need a layered approach to survivability, whether it’s a manned or unmanned platform. A decoy really enhances combat effectiveness – our pilots and aircrew need the flexibility to defend against modern threats and still complete their mission.”

Raytheon Intelligence & Space is developing a next-generation decoy to counter advanced missiles, which now operate over a wider range of bands in the electromagnetic spectrum.

Decoys draw adversary fire by emitting signals across extended frequencies, tricking hostile weapon systems into pursuing them instead of the aircraft. The new Dual-Band Decoy, designed for the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, will find more threats across the spectrum and engage the threatening missiles from farther away.

“Dual-Band Decoy has improved aerodynamics and modern, powerful techniques to lure missiles away – all of it is pushing the limits,” said Paul Rhonemus, engineering fellow and program area chief engineer for Emerging Programs at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. “It comes down to giving pilots the ability to return home safely.”

Pilots can launch the Dual-Band Decoy, but it can also deploy autonomously thanks to an onboard receiver that can sense threats and engage.

“Having the ability to deploy faster than humans can react is key,” Paul said. “This level of autonomy is becoming more important as the threats become more complex.”

Modern threats change behavior at much faster speeds than before. The Dual-Band Decoy uses compact high speed electronics within the decoy that can quickly respond to these changes.

The Dual-Band Decoy design is based partly on the ALE-50, a Raytheon Intelligence & Space decoy system nicknamed “Little Buddy” that has been successfully deployed in military operations across many services. RI&S has delivered over 30,000 ALE-50s and sustains those still in use.

“There’s no doubt about the fact that the ALE-50 has saved lives in the past,” said Paul.

Dual-Band Decoy builds on the years of manufacturing experience, reliability and cost effectiveness of the ALE-50 and other programs. In 2019, the US Navy awarded Raytheon an award to develop and demonstrate the next generation decoy.

“Emerging threats are evolving at an incredible rate,” said Paul. “The next generation of decoys is designed for highly contested environments to enable mission success and save lives.”