Fighter Pilots Couldn't Ask for a Better Wingman Than the Little Buddy

Evading RF (radar frequency) missiles is not unlike running from a bear. You don't have to outrun the threat itself but merely offer up a more tasty morsel instead—be that your pudgy buddy or, in the case of air combat, a juicy decoy with an enormous radar cross-section.

The AN/ALE-50, nicknamed "Little Buddy," is a towed decoy designed to counter incoming RF missiles. Carried in an under-wing pylon and deployed at the end of a long tow rope, the ALE-50 exploits an RF missile's basic targeting function—that is, locking on and tracking their targets by continually pinging them with radar—by presenting a target with a massive radar cross section compared to the plane pulling it. The RF missile interprets this larger cross section as a bigger plane (and presumably more valuable target) and locks onto the decoy instead.

Fighter Pilots Couldn't Ask for a Better Wingman Than the Little Buddy


First developed in 1988, the US Air Force, Navy, and Marines now all employ this countermeasure in their F-16, F/A-18E/F, and B-1B aircraft. It's seen action in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq and has successfully intercepted missiles in both training and actual combat. And while the $22,000 price tag affixed to each of the 27,000 ALE-50 units Raytheon has already delivered to the military might seem steep, compared to losing a $66.3 million Super Hornet, they're a steal. [Raytheon - Wiki - Defense Industry Daily]

Photo: Luke -