TALD: Enhancing DCS World Coordinated Strikes
Updated: Sep 20
Updated: October 18th, 2022 / Originally published: April 22nd, 2022
Digital Combat Simulator World has an often forgotten munition amid its glide bombs, anti-radiation missiles, jammer pods, and cruise missiles. An unguided, subsonic, non-lethal glide vehicle that can enhance the effectiveness and survivability of missions requiring aircraft to challenge formidable air defenses directly. The ADM-141A Tactical Air Launched Decoy (TALD) is purpose-built to deceive radars and surface-to-air missiles, but it's hardly ever seen in DCS World's multiplayer environment. There are valid reasons for it being so uncommon, but I feel the TALD offers so much when used correctly. Consider this an article advocating for increased use of this munition.
The Role of the TALD
The ADM-141A TALD is a reliable addition to the suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD) missions and anti-ship attacks against warships. As a decoy, it deceives hostile air defenses and tricks them into activating their radars by appearing as incoming aircraft. With the hostile radars operational, allied aircraft are alerted to their presence. Allies can then begin targeting or defending against the radars guiding anti-aircraft defenses. Ideally, the TALDs will also draw hostile surface-to-air missiles (SAM) to themselves while allied aircraft carry out their attacks.
Example of Use
One of my most memorable sorties in DCS World was part of an online multiplayer Liberation campaign with High Beat Industries, led by Triplication (virtual aviator, video content creator). As the primary flight of High Beat pilots conducted their close air support and counter-air missions at the front lines in the east, I flew escort for a carrier-borne SEAD mission launching in the west.
As a part of that escort, I deployed TALDs during the mission's final phase. Upon nearing the firing range of an opposing S-300 (SA-10), multiple missiles were launched at the TALDs, which were positioned in front of a wall of AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles. The air-launched decoys helped oversaturate the air defense's ability to defend against the incoming HARMs. Some of the decoys were destroyed, and some HARMs were intercepted, but the remaining missiles effectively disabled the fearsome SAM site by destroying its distracted radar emitters.
This summarizes the practical usefulness of the ADM-141A even in a high-threat environment. It is not an electronic countermeasure that can blind fire control radar, nor can it guarantee that every weapon launched will reach its target. But when used correctly, they can significantly increase the chances of a successful coordinated strike against air defenses that can defend themselves while counterattacking.
While there were many real-world variants of the ADM-141 with capabilities like countermeasures, navigation systems, and their own propulsion, DCS World offers the basic unguided, gliding version: the ADM-141A. As you may have guessed immediately, with no engine of its own, the decoy relies heavily on the speed, altitude, and direction of the aircraft carrying it. As a general rule of thumb, releasing a TALD at a high altitude and high speed enables it to travel even farther. Though launch parameters may need to change depending on the detection and engagement ranges of the air defense system, they are up against. If the known target is a short-range missile system with a low altitude ceiling, launching the TALD higher than the threat can detect the decoy will have no effect.
Once the launch aircraft lines up at the intended speed, bearing, and altitude, the TALD is released. The decoy continues traveling on the bearing it was released on with no further inputs from human-crewed aircraft, gradually losing altitude and speed as it glides.
These are not restrictions but occasional notable bugs. TALDs can sometimes physically pass through terrain once they reach low altitudes. They sometimes continue flying thousands of feet below the earth. This is a behavior I've witnessed semi-frequently on various DCS World maps. Also, the wings of the TALDs occasionally do not animate, making it look like the wings do not swing outward, but this does not affect their flight profile in any way.
F-14 Tomcat: Difficult Loadout Decisions
The Heatblur Simulations F-14 Tomcat is one of the most well-done aircraft available in the simulator. This iconic swing-wing symbol of American naval fighter superiority is best known for documentaries extolling its long-range missile engagement abilities and one of the most memorable Hollywood military aviation movies ever. The praise for the Tomcat is further punctuated by the B model's better engines and solid air-to-ground capabilities compared to the A model.
The Tomcat's sheer aircraft performance makes it an effective TALD platform. The F-14 can quickly accelerate past Mach 1 and zoom climb up to high altitudes, giving the decoys ideal launch parameters. However, this comes at the cost of the Tomcat giving up weapon stations that can mount laser-guided bombs or its famous AIM-54 Phoenix missile. That's a difficult choice.
Do note that a lone Tomcat can provide itself with coverage. ADM-141s could distract air defenses while the F-14 attempts a low-altitude attack to strike the distracted SAM site. Using the aircraft's raw speed to get within the minimum launch range of a SAM, the Tomcat would then attack with bombs, rockets, or its cannon at close range. That's a daring way to live, but it is possible!
F/A-18C Hornet: Ideal TALD Platform
Until June 2022, the F-14 Tomcat was the only aircraft in DCS World that could deploy TALDs, albeit with a severe sacrifice of its attack capability. Even though it took many years for the once-teased TALDs to be added to the Eagle Dynamics F/A-18C Hornet, this already capable DEAD/SEAD platform is further elevated with these decoys. The Hornet flies plenty fast enough to deploy TALDs effectively and achieve their maximum performance with the benefit of being able to carry many of them while attacking still from safer distances.
The F/A-18C can carry one to twelve TALDs. An example of an ideal loadout includes two to six TALDs split between two weapon stations, with the other two stations equipped with anti-radiation missiles or standoff glide bombs. Launching the decoys while inter-mixing weapons can be accomplished by a single aircraft. Going full "TALD Truck," carrying the maximum amount of ADM-141s and no standoff weaponry, is reserved for special occasions like supporting multi-aircraft attacks on IADS or fleets.
The Hornet's mid-4th generation fighter sensors and systems benefit TALD deployment greatly. With an expanded electronic warfare display, known SAM engagement ranges shown on the situational awareness display, and radar warning receiver cues projected on the helmet-mounted display, TALDs remain effective even against unexpected pop-up threats.
Reliance on Allies and Coordination
The ADM-141A TALD is designed to enable the success of other aircraft. Coordination is needed. The decoys arriving too late make them ineffective in providing cover. Having them arrive too early gives the defenders more time to destroy or identify the TALDs and then refocus on the actual attack. More complex attacks will need to factor in aircraft spacing, altitudes, speeds, TALD glide speed, the speed of incoming allied weapons, staggering launches, the direction of launches, and so many other factors; there's a reason real-world mission planning takes dedicated teams days of planning.
The reward for pre-mission planning and good communication is a higher mission success rate while increasing the survivability of allies, even against the most formidable intergraded air defenses. But again, if you're flying solo or with little to no communication with others in multiplayer, the chances of getting everything to line up correctly are low.
In any combat-oriented flight title, non-offensive munitions and gadgets are underused or go without praise. Some of them are understandably overlooked. You won't see me singing praises about travel pods, ACMI pods, and spotting flare dispensers any time soon, but something like the ADM-141A TALD deserves a closer look. Start your research!
About the Author
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.