USAF Tests Palletized Munition System In Pacific

A U.S. Air Force MC-130 tests the Rapid Dragon system in 2021.

Credit: U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) has conducted a successful test of the Rapid Dragon pallet system as part of its massive exercise across the Pacific, as the command wants to include the system in all of its planning.

The command, when asked about the Rapid Dragon’s involvement in the Mobility Guardian 2023 exercise, said that it “in coordination with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command successfully conducted a palletized effects test.”

The Rapid Dragon system, initially developed by Air Force Special Operations Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), uses an air-dropped pallet to launch cruise missiles or other systems.

The system, first tested in 2021, originally focused on the Lockheed Martin Joint Air-to-Surface Missile (JASSM), though the service has expanded the system to other munitions and systems, such as cargo-delivering drones. The system has completed three phases of testing: demonstration on the C-130 and C-17 with JASSM, command-and-control testing for retargeting, and validated deployment systems. The system is currently undergoing a phase of testing focused on high-altitude drop, jettison and deconfliction of “operationally relevant payloads and is working toward powered flight tests,” AFRL says.

AMC Commander Gen. Mike Minihan tells Aerospace DAILY that he wants Rapid Dragon’s capability included in everything the command does, largely because of the dilemmas it could create for an enemy. 

“Now the adversary has an infinitely higher problem to worry about. [They] don’t need to worry just about the bombers, [they] have to worry about this C-130 and every other C-130 on the planet,” Minihan says. “C-130s can do it. All of our partners and allies fly them, so you can give the adversary an infinite amount of dilemmas that they need to worry about.”

The system also works on C-17s, which also are flown by multiple other allies. 

“I’m not saying they would do the same thing, I’m just telling you it’s an effect [that] has a lot of magnitude when you can do those things,” he says. 

AMC would not specify where the test took place, only saying that it was conducted by U.S. forces. Mobility Guardian, which wrapped up July 21, took place at several locations across the Indo-Pacific ranging from Alaska to Australia, with hubs in Hawaii, Guam and Japan.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.