USAF Plans Live Test Of Palletized Munitions In December

Credit: USAF

The U.S. Air Force this December will conduct a live demonstration of palletized cruise missiles from the back of cargo aircraft, after multiple tests on aircraft including C-17s and EC-130s.

Air Force Materiel Command boss Gen. Arnold Bunch said Sept. 21 that the December demonstration, during which the released Joint Air-to-Surface Missile will fire its engine, will follow test missions that successfully demonstrated the ability to pass new targeting coordinates for the JASSMs through different data links.

“It is interesting for me that we’re moving out in this area, and I’m happy with the way we are moving out in this area,” Bunch said.

While the tests are focusing on JASSMs, Bunch would not rule out the possibility that the palletized system could be used for other devices, such as drones.

“Right now, what I need to figure out is can I safely drop JASSMs out,” Bunch said. “That’s what we’re looking at right now. Can I safely drop JASSMs out, separate them, such that they can launch and go out and prosecute targets? How [do] we morph that once we demonstrate that technology? I won’t go into any more details.” 

Lockheed Martin developed the munition pallets, called Rapid Dragon, and recently released surrogate JASSM-ERs in flights at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, from a C-17 and an EC-130J.

“These Rapid Dragon deployments represent the first end-to-end demonstration of a palletized strike mission, from rolling missile pallets onto an aircraft to inflight missile release,” Scott Callaway, Lockheed Martin Advanced Strike Programs director, said in a release. “They are a big step toward showing the feasibility of the palletized munitions concept and the ability of mobility aircraft to augment the strike capacity of tactical fighters and strategic bombers.”

During the test, the pallets were deployed at an “operationally relevant altitude,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement. Once the pallets stabilized, they released the missiles “in quick succession.”

After the release, a ground crew transmitted the new targeting information using beyond-line-of-sight communications.

The December test will use an MC-130J, Lockheed said. 

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.


1 Comment
Photo depicts a Navy or USMC KC-130J tanker.