On Thursday, the US Air Force successfully dropped a cruise missile armed with a live warhead from an MC-130J over the Gulf of Mexico, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) reported.
The December 16 test at the Eglin Air Force Base Water Test Field in Florida was a demonstration of the Air Force’s Rapid Dragon, a program to use palletized weapon systems from military cargo planes.
During the test flight, the Air Force Special Operations Command crew operating the MC-130J received new targeting data, which was then routed to the missile flight test vehicle of cruise (FTV).
“Receiving the in-flight combat management system for the aircraft and uploading the new targeting data to the FTV was a first achievement with a live cruise missile,” AFRL said.
The crew dropped a pallet containing the FTV, along with three mass simulators, all of which were released in sequence while floating toward the target under a parachute.
“The safe separation of the deployment area and the deconfliction of weapons have been demonstrated using an unconventional method of deployment (vertical nose-down orientation),” AFRL said. “Immediately after the vertical release, the FTV deployed its wings and tail, gained aerodynamic control, fired its engine, performed a motorized pull maneuver, and headed for its new target. The cruise missile went into motion. managed to destroy his target on impact.
With the US Air Force, @Lockheed Martin The Rapid Dragon team demonstrated the feasibility of a palletized strike mission by hitting a ship with a missile deployed from a mobility aircraft.
– Lockheed Martin News (@lmnews) December 16, 2021
Rapid Dragon, which is led by the Air Force’s Office of Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE), seeks to provide commanders with a wider range of air strike capabilities at a faster pace.
“This type of experimentation campaign, which bridges capability gaps and demonstrates transformational efforts, helps us shape future requirements and shortens time to service,” said Major General Heather Pringle, commander of the Air Force research laboratory, in a statement. “This approach ultimately allows a rapid commissioning alternative to the traditional long acquisition times.”
So far, the program has lived up to its name, going from concept to system-level flight test in 10 months, with a live fire demonstration five months later. In the past five months, five flight tests have been carried out on MC-130J, EC-130SJ and C-17A aircraft.
In September, palletized substitute air-to-surface joint missiles (JASSM-ERs) were dropped from a C-17 and an EC-130 over White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
“These Rapid Dragon deployments represent the first end-to-end demonstration of a palletized strike mission, ranging from rolling missile paddles on an aircraft to in-flight missile release,” said Scott Callaway, director of strike programs. advanced Lockheed Martin, after the test. “They are a big step towards demonstrating the feasibility of the concept of palletized ammunition and the ability of mobility aircraft to increase the strike capability of tactical fighters and strategic bombers.”
The next Rapid Dragon flight test of a live-fire cruise missile from a C-17 that will demonstrate the aircraft’s agnostic capabilities is scheduled for spring 2022, Air Force officials have said.