Earlier this week, defense contractor Raytheon (NYSE:RTN) announced that it is working in cooperation with unmanned aerial vehicle manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to equip the latter's B/MQ-9 Reaper UAV, the armed variant of the Predator, with Raytheon's own Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD, missile.

In a statement, Raytheon noted that the companies have already completed the ground verification test phase of the project and estimate that before the year is out, Reapers will be cleared to fly, armed with MALD payloads.

Measuring 9.5 feet long, weighing only 285 pounds, and possessing a 500-mile range, MALD is a sort of hybrid drone/missile. Like a drone, it can be operated remotely after launch and told where to fly to. Like a missile, it is low-cost and consumable -- once launched, it fulfills its function and then crashes. It cannot be recovered and relaunched.

As for what its "function" is, MALD is basically a decoy missile, emitting electronic signals that make it appear to be a full-sized fighter jet on enemy radars, thus diverting anti-aircraft fire from more valuable targets. A more advanced version of the missile, dubbed MALD-J, adds a jamming function so that the device not only mimics a U.S. aircraft but also jams enemy radar to further disrupt enemy air defenses.

Both missiles are already in U.S. arsenals, with the more recent MALD-J having begun shipment last fall.

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