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USAF Demonstrates Cruise Missile Launch From Cargo Aircraft

The US Air Force demonstrated a cruise missile launch from a cargo plane using a palletized weapon system for the first time.

The test is part of the Air Force Rapid Dragon Experimentation Program to achieve cost-effective mass delivery of long-range standoff weapons from non-traditional air platforms such as cargo planes.

The Launch

The launch involved the MC-130J aircraft crew receiving targeting data through a beyond-line-of-sight command and control node for the onboard Battle Management System (BMS).

The BMS then communicated the data to the palletized missile, which was without an engine or warhead. The aircraft then airdropped a four-cell Rapid Dragon deployment system containing the missile and three mass simulants, “which sequentially released from the palletized system.”

Once dropped, the missile activated “its wings and tail, achieved aerodynamic control, and began a pull-up maneuver as it glided toward its new target.”

Once the Palletized Munition Deployment System was stabilized under the parachutes, the production long range cruise missile STV and mass simulants were released sequentially, timed for safe separation between munitions.
Once the Palletized Munition Deployment System was stabilized under the parachutes, the production long range cruise missile STV and mass simulants were released sequentially, timed for safe separation between munitions. Photo: US Air Force

‘Expands Warfighting Flexibility’

This is the first time a missile — albeit without an engine and warhead — has been used in the test. On all previous occasions, a missile simulator was employed.

Rapid Dragon program manager Dr. Dean Evans said, “In future conflict scenarios against strategic competitors, the ability to cost-effectively deliver long-range standoff weapons en masse from non-traditional platforms expands warfighting flexibility and introduces new deterrence options.”

Future Plans

During the series of tests, the air force demonstrated a high-altitude weapon airdrop, successful jettisoning weapons through a deployment system, and “weapon de-confliction through the clean separation of the weapon and multiple simulants.”

Moving forward, a live, long-range cruise missile “under powered flight” onboard an MC-130J aircraft will be launched to determine potential design refinement, maturation, and eventual deployment. The air force plans to include other weapon systems for similar testing.

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