The US Air Force has come one step closer to launching missiles from cargo planes

The US Air Force The Office for Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) is one step closer to making palletized munitions a reality after successfully conducting flight demonstration earlier this month, paving the way for the deployment of long-range cruise missiles in the near future.

The US Air Force plans to deploy palletized munitions from cargo planes as part of its own Rapid Dragon program. In order to develop a roll-on roll-off system that can be used to quickly convert military transport aircraft into deadly strike platforms, the program has moved rapidly from concept to actual firing in less than 24 months, with the design of pallet was just completed 10 months ago, the press release said.

Palletized ammunition fell from the MC-130J. Source: Air Force Research Laboratory

During a recent flight demonstration, the Air Force tested a serial long-range cruise missile test machine (STV). The MC-130J on its way to the White Sands missile range in New Mexico received new guidance data through the Battle Management System (BMS), an aircraft diagnostics system. BMS then uploaded the new data to STV without using a cruise missile emulator, the first for the program.

STV without warhead or engine retains all other components of the cruise missile. On the missile range, the aircraft launched a Rapid Dragon deployment system capable of holding four rounds of ammunition at once. In addition to the STV, the deployment system carried three mass models of cruise missiles.

The four units contained in the pallet were successively released shortly after the air launch. After its release, the STV spread its wings and tail, achieved aerodynamic control and even performed a pull maneuver as it moved toward its intended target, according to a press release.

While some of the achievements of the demonstration flight may sound repetitive, the operational team must also demonstrate that the capabilities of palletized ammunition are reproducible given the accelerated pace at which development has taken place.

During the demonstration, military and industrial partners such as the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Dahlgren; Standoff Ammunition Application Center; Lockheed Martin missiles; Systima Technologies; and Safran Electronics & Defense, Parachutes USA were also present.

Next on the SDPE agenda is the deployment of long-range ammunition with the help of a powered flight, which aims to look for potential design improvements leading to additional experimental demonstrations and rapid use.

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