USAF Demonstrates Cargo Aircraft Missile Launch 

The US Air Force (USAF) recently demonstrated beyond-line-of-sight command and control of an air-to-surface standoff missile-equipped Palletized Weapon System.

The maiden virtual launch, from an unmodified military cargo plane, was part of the Air Force Rapid Dragon Experimentation Program during the US Indo-Pacific Command’s Northern Edge ’21 exercise.

Rapid Dragon Program

The program focuses on utilizing cargo planes to deploy long-range strike weapons en masse, such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM).

Rapid Dragon program manager Dr. Dean Evans said, “The Rapid Dragon Program demonstrated the ability to transfer targeting data to an airborne Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft.” 

“The data assigned a new routing and target to the on-board munition emulator, which set in motion the virtual launch of a ‘palletized’ Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) missile. Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control, R4 Integration, Standoff Munitions Center, and Naval Surface Warfare Center – Dahlgren were integral to the success of this first-ever dynamic targeting capability.”

A Cargo Launch Expendable Air Vehicle
A Cargo Launch Expendable Air Vehicle with Extended Range, or CLEAVER, 2-pack pallet deploys from an MC-130J Commando II aircraft. Image: Courtesy photo/ US Air Force

Launch Execution

During the operation, an “off-board sensor” identified a target and communicated it to the weapon system onboard the aircraft.

The missile emulator subsequently “achieved all-up-round status, demonstrating the ability to strike the new targets in accordance with the updated orders.”

Provides Flexibility to Commanders

The capability to launch munitions from cargo aircraft will provide additional flexibility to commanders during battle and enhance the capacity of tactical fighters and strategic bombers.

“Additionally, the retargeting methodology used is transferable to other strike platforms, potentially making all JASSM-capable strike assets more lethal in an increasingly complicated and dynamic near-peer conflict,” the USAF wrote.

In the next stage, a live missile-equipped Palletized Weapon System will be test-launched from a cargo aircraft at the end of the year.

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