The USAF has successfully conducted a demonstration program of the mass launch of long-range precision strike weapons from a transport aircraft.
Conducted by the USAF’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) office, the Rapid Dragon Program saw a number of AGM-158B JASSM-ER missile shapes launched on pallets from EC-130J Commando Solo and C-17A Globemaster III transports following the transfer of data to a battle management system onboard the launch aircraft in flight.
The targeting data was transferred from the battle management system to the JASSM-ER emulators, and the palletised weapon deployment system was jettisoned from the rear cargo ramp of the aircraft. The pallet stabilised under a parachute, and the weapons were sequentially released. Had they been powered weapons instead of training masses, they would have each flown away to their respective targets up to 800km away.
An SPDE release says the demonstration achieved several firsts; “a successful high-altitude airdrop using a modular deployment box; a successful jettison of multiple weapons from the palletised weapon deployment system; and weapon de-confliction verification through the clean separation of JASSM-ER simulants from the deployment system.”
A live weapon test of the Rapid Dragon system is scheduled to occur before the end of 2021. The SPDE release says, “These tests will inform potential design refinement and accelerate the maturation of these systems for further capability experimentation and rapid fielding. A follow-on program will look at expanding the Rapid Dragon portfolio to include additional weapon systems and multiple effects capabilities.”
It says the Rapid Dragon capability, “could ultimately lead to a roll-on, roll-off system that transforms mobility aircraft into lethal strike platforms that augment the strike capacity of tactical fighters and strategic bombers. The retargeting methodology used is transferrable to other strike and cargo platforms, potentially increasing lethality of all JASSM-capable strike assets.”