TALD: Enhancing DCS World Coordinated Strikes
Updated: 4 days ago
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 like 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 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. Allied aircraft can then begin targeting or defending against the radars before flying into the potential combat engagement range of any anti-aircraft weapons those radars may be attached to. Ideally, the TALDs will also draw hostile surface-to-air missiles (SAM) to themselves while allied units carry out their own attacks.
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 duty for two SEAD flights moving to attack an S-300 SAM site in the northeast, I deployed TALDs during the final phase of the attack. Upon entering the firing range of the opposing S-300, multiple missiles were launched at the TALDs, which were positioned in front of a wall of AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles. The TALDs helped oversaturate the SAM's ability to attack and defend against the incoming HARMs, making it less effective. Some of the decoys were destroyed, some HARMs were intercepted, but the remaining missiles effectively disabled the fearsome S-300 by destroying its distracted radar emitters.
This summarizes the practical usefulness of the ADM-141A even in a high threat environment. It is not a type of electronic countermeasure that can degrade 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 wide-reaching air defenses - even against targets that can defend themselves while counterattacking, like an S-300, warships or a functioning integrated air defense system.
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 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.
Once the launch aircraft lines up on 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 manned 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 altitude. Sometimes seeming to 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 themselves outward, but this does not effect their flight profile in any way.
Difficult Loadout Decisions
The Heatblur Simulations F-14 Tomcat is one of my favorite aircraft to fly in DCS World. 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 notable air-to-ground capabilities, which include a targeting pod and laser-guided bombs. But as of the time this article was written, the F-14 remains the only aircraft in Digital Combat Simulator World that offers the ADM-141A TALD.
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 their ideal launch parameters. Though 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 to make unless you have a specific reason to do so. If an F-14 Tomcat is flying solo in a DCS multiplayer server, it's hard to justify bringing decoys in support of allies that may not utilize them at all. This is definitely a part of why the TALD remains so uncommon.
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 unguided bombs, rockets, or its internal cannon at close range. That's a daring way to live, but it is possible!
Reliance on Allies and Coordination
The ADM-141A TALD was designed to enable the success of other aircraft. The assumption is that the Tomcat would be deploying these decoys for much more capable strike aircraft with anti-radiation missiles and standoff weapons to more reliably hit their surface targets.
Coordination and communication with all aircraft in the flight is needed. This is especially important since these decoys need to be in the air before allied aircraft and their weapons enter the hostile surface-to-air missile ranThe decoys arriving too late make them ineffective in providing any 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. Even basic attacks with a minimum of two to four aircraft still require the decoys to enter the area first.
The reward for pre-mission planning and good communication is a higher mission success rate against SAM sites and warships, while increasing survivability of allies even against the nastiest of 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 game or flight simulator, 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. Go 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.