Wednesday, April 10, 2024

U.S. Air Force destroys target with cruise missile deployed from cargo aircraft

The U.S. Air Force has conducted the first successful end-to-end test of its Rapid Dragon air-launched palletized munitions concept.

The service deployed a cruise missile armed with a live warhead from the back of an MC-130J Commando II special operations transport using its Rapid Dragon Palletized Weapon System on 16 December. The test took place at the Eglin AFB Overwater Test Range above the Gulf of Mexico, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) says.

During the live-fire demonstration, an MC-130J received targeting data while flying and sent it to the cruise missile flight test vehicle (FTV) for the first time. Once inside the drop zone over the Gulf of Mexico, the MC-130J aircrew then airdropped a four-cell Rapid Dragon deployment system containing the FTV and three mass simulants, which were sequentially released from the palletized deployment box while under the parachute.

The missile was safely separated from the deployment box, and weapon deconfliction was demonstrated using an unconventional deployment method (nose-down vertical orientation). Immediately then, the FTV deployed its wings and tail, achieved aerodynamic control, ignited its engine, performed a powered pull-up maneuver, and proceeded toward its newly assigned target. The cruise missile successfully destroyed its target upon impact.

The next step for the Rapid Dragon Program will be a live-fire test with a cruise missile from a C-17 in Spring 2022, demonstrating the aircraft agnostic capabilities of the Palletized Weapon System. Lastly, a follow-on program will look at expanding the Rapid Dragon carriage portfolio to include additional weapon systems and multiple effects capabilities, as well as continuing the maturation of the system, taking it from a developmental prototype to an operational prototype over the next two years.

The successful Rapid Dragon experiments pave the way for U.S. and allied mobility platforms to dramatically increase fires available for a combatant commander to place more adversary targets at risk.