Do you have cargo planes armed with cruise missiles? The US Air Force is almost there.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force conducted a test of its Rapid Dragon palletized munitions system concept on November 3, which could one day pave the way for a barrage of cruise missiles to be launched from the back of an aircraft. mobility.
The Air Force Research Laboratory said in a Tuesday statement that it had deployed a long-range cruise missile separation test vehicle – essentially an engine-less, warhead-less cruise missile – from an MC aircraft. -130J Commando II.
During the flight demonstration at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the crew of the MC-130 – an Air Force Special Operations Command task group – obtained new targeting data for its management system. combat embarked as it flew toward the drop zone, the statement said. The combat management system then uploaded this new weapon data to the palette, allowing it to find its new target.
It was the first time that the combat management system, using a command and control node beyond line of sight, received and downloaded new targeting data in such a separation test vehicle, said the Air Force. Previous demonstrations of retargeting beyond the service’s line of sight had used a cruise missile emulator.
As the MC-130J approached the target, it dropped the Rapid Dragon deployment system carrying the unarmed cruise missile, along with three weights each simulating the mass and shape of cruise missiles. Within seconds, the parachutes deployed to stabilize the vane, and the cruise missile and weights began to release sequentially to avoid collisions. The missile’s wings and tail came out, it started to straighten up, then it slid towards its new target.
AFRL said this could lead to the first deployment of a long-range, powered-flight cruise missile from an MC-130J piloted by the Air Force Special Operations Command. And future follow-up programs for this effort will examine whether Rapid Dragon can handle other types of weapons and multiple effect capabilities.
“In future scenarios of conflict against strategic competitors, the ability to cost-effectively deliver long-range ranged weapons en masse from non-traditional platforms extends combat flexibility and introduces new deterrence options,” said Dean Evans, director of the Rapid Dragon program.
AFRL spokesman Bryan Ripple said the next test will be a live-fire event, which is scheduled to take place in December.
The Air Force’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office leads the Rapid Dragon program. Other organizations that participated in the demonstration were Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren, Standoff Munitions Application Center, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, System Technologies and the Safran Electronics and Defense Parachutes USA affiliate.
AFRL said in the statement that the demonstration also showed that previous successful tests could be replicated, such as performing high altitude air drops, dropping multiple Rapid Dragon weapons, and removing the weapons upon release in neatly separating the unarmed cruise missile and the other three simulated. missiles.
And AFRL said Rapid Dragon would be able to easily get on and off a mobility plane without any modifications to the planes.
The Air Force has been looking for ways to arm its airlift planes with multiple weapons attached to smart paddles, which could download targeting information to the weapons. This ‘bomb bay in a box’ concept, as the Air Force once called it, is intended to allow aircraft such as the C-130 and C-17 to drop multiple weapons that could strike. enemies at a distance, while staying clear of danger.
But while the Rapid Dragon program could represent a breakthrough in the way the Air Force launches palletized ammunition from mobility planes, it wouldn’t be the first time that weapons have been delivered from those planes. In 2017, an MC-130 from a special operations unit at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico dropped a GBU-43 / B known as MOAB, or Massive Ordnance Air Blast, on a complex of tunnels in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, used by the Islamic State Khorasan Militant Group.
Stephen Losey is the Air Warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special ops and air warfare. Prior to that, he covered US Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for the Air Force Times.