US Air Force demonstrates long-range cruise missile launch from cargo aircraft

The Air Force Rapid Dragon Program, a fast-paced experimentation campaign led by the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) office, moved a step closer to making palletized munitions a reality. Earlier this month, the US Air Force completed another successful flight demonstration at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The test demonstrated the development of a production long-range cruise missile separation test vehicle, or STV – a cruise missile without an engine and warhead – from an MC-130J Commando II aircraft. During the flight demonstration, the MC-130′s crew used a beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) command and control node to receive new targeting data for the onboard Battle Management System (BMS). The BMS then uploaded the targeting data to the palletized weapon, allowing it to find its new target.

This was the first time the BMS received and uploaded new targeting data into such a separation test vehicle, the Air Force said. All previous BLOS retargeting demonstrations used a cruise missile emulator.

The photo shows a successful separation of a STV from the sabot following the weapon release, followed by the deployment of the STV’s control surfaces (wings and tail).
The photo shows a successful separation of a STV from the sabot following the weapon release, followed by the deployment of the STV’s control surfaces (wings and tail). Credit: U.S. Air Force

The MC-130J airdropped a four-cell Rapid Dragon deployment system containing the STV and three mass simulants, which were sequentially released from the palletized weapons system. Within a few seconds, the STV deployed its wings and tail, achieved aerodynamic control, and began a pull-up maneuver as it glided toward its new target.

This demonstration paves the way for the first deployment of a live long-range cruise missile, operating the underpowered flight, from an MC-130J flown by Air Force Special Operations Command. It will inform potential design refinement and accelerate the maturation of these systems for further 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.

“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,” said Dr. Dean Evans, Rapid Dragon program manager.

The November 3 demonstration was performed by an operational Air Force Special Operations Command aircrew. Other demonstration participants included the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Dahlgren; Standoff Munitions Application Center; Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control; Systima Technologies; and Safran Electronics & Defense, Parachutes USA.

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