You just know Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) is kicking itself today. We haven't seen a goof this big since General Dynamics spun off General Atomics, voluntarily "giving away the store" in the nascent unmanned aerial vehicle market.

I'm referring, of course, to Raytheon's (NYSE: RTN) latest "coolest weapon ever" -- the MALD aerial decoy drone, which the defense contractor demoed yesterday off the deck of an airborne C-130 transport plane.

Northrop originally developed the missile that would become the MALD, but Raytheon is realizing the device's potential. In yesterday's demonstration, the company deployed a pair of MALD drones using a pallet-mounted "MCALS." This "steel, birdcage-like" device can be loaded with eight of the unmanned birds, then launch them out the plane's back door at altitude, at which point the MALDs begin flying independently. According to Raytheon, the modular MCALS, plus cheap squadrons of 300-pound MALDs, will let a single U.S. cargo aircraft launch literally hundreds of drones into battle.

And the best part of all (for investors)? As I believe I've mentioned before, MALDs are "consumable" drones. They don't "return to base" after a mission. They're fired, expended -- and then the Air Force has to buy more of them.

From Raytheon. By the hundreds, if MALDs enter regular use.

That sound you hear is a cash register ringing for Raytheon -- and quiet sobbing, perhaps, from Northrop Grumman.

Will hundreds of MALD drones mean economies of scale, lower prices for taxpayers, and profits for Raytheon? It's a distinct possibility. Add the stock to your Watchlist and follow the story.

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