As Ukraine continues its NATO-backed defense against Russian forces, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) on Nov. 9 conducted the first theater test over the Arctic Circle in Norway of an AGM-158A Joint Air to Surface Standoff Munition (JASSM) palletized munition, dropped from an MC-130J Commando II.

The latter, stationed at Mildenhall Royal Air Force Base in the United Kingdom, is part of the 67th Special Operations Squadron of the 352d Special Operations Wing.

SOCEUR said that the test occurred over the Andøya Space Range off Norway’s Andøya Island and that the test was part of U.S. European Command’s ATREUS exercises.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] builds JASSM, an Extended Range variant, and the C-130J aircraft. Also present for the Nov. 9 test was a special operations MC-12W Liberty aircraft, based on Textron‘s [TXT] Beechcraft King Air 350ER (Extended Range). The Air National Guard (ANG) at Will Rogers ANG Base in Oklahoma has 13 of the planes, which first fielded in 2009 to Iraq and Afghanistan to meet an urgent operational need for battlefield intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

The Liberty contains electro-optical and infrared sensors by L3Harris [LHX].

ATREUS “is meant to increase integration of both conventional and Special Operations Forces from participating nations and enhance interoperability with our NATO allies and European partners,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lawrence Melnicoff, the lead of Operation ATREUS, said in a SOCEUR statement. “Routine engagements like those conducted throughout ATREUS training events enable effective responses for any contingency, as well as continuation of training, and increased readiness and collective defense.”

“The ATREUS series began in April, 2021 to identify and conduct training opportunities on capabilities found throughout Europe that enable response options for U.S. and NATO allies and partners,” SOCEUR said. “Previous ATREUS training events have focused on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) capability with participation from Romania, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Latvia.”

Lockheed Martin builds HIMARS.

The Nov. 9 test “is the seventh iteration of ATREUS in the European theater, but the first combined and joint effort with participation from ally nations of Norway, Poland, Romania, and the United Kingdom, as well as U.S. Air Force Europe-Air Forces Africa, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific, and U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command,” per SOCEUR.

Last Dec. 16, an MC-130J dropped a test JASSM at the Eglin AFB Overwater Test Range, Fla., as part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Rapid Dragon program to test and field palletized munition operational prototypes on cargo aircraft in the next two years (Defense Daily, Dec. 17, 2021).

AFRL has said that the Rapid Dragon program under the Air Force’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) office is named for a “thousand-year-old Chinese military designed crossbow catapult that launched multiple crossbow bolts with the pull of a single trigger, raining destruction down on armies from tremendous ranges. These lethal devices were called Ji Long Che—Rapid Dragon Carts.”

In the test last December, the MC-130J received new targeting data while in flight and sent the updates to the cruise missile flight test vehicle (FTV) before dropping a palletized deployment box with a parachute over the Gulf of Mexico. The box carried the FTV and three mass simulants. After the unconventional nose-down vertical release of the FTV and the three mass simulants, the FTV deployed its wings and tail, ignited its engine, conducted a powered pull-up maneuver and proceeded to the new target, which it destroyed, AFRL said.
AFRL established SPDE in May 2016 to help speed the fielding of future, multi-domain capabilities, and the Rapid Dragon program began in 2019.
Dean Evans, the Rapid Dragon program manager, said in SOCEUR’s Nov. 9 statement that Rapid Dragon “is appropriately named, as it advanced rapidly from a concept on paper to a live fire using a developmental prototype in 24 months.”
“Now less than three years from the program’s inception, Rapid Dragon is being used by SOCEUR in the Arctic Circle,” he said. “This is a testament to the team’s focus on rapid fielding to meet warfighter needs.”