Last month, the U.S. Air Force conducted its first system-level flight tests to demonstrate the ability of Lockheed Martin [LMT] Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) to drop palletized munitions from C-130s and Boeing [BA] C-17, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) said on Aug. 20.
The Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) office’s Rapid Dragon program conducted the two tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., using C-17 and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) EC-130SJ aircraft.
AFRL established SPDE in May 2016 to help speed the fielding of future, multi-domain capabilities.
“The aircraft-agnostic battle management system onboard the aircraft received new targeting data and uploaded it to a JASSM-ER emulator,” AFRL said of the latest testing. “The JASSM-ER emulator successfully demonstrated the ability to retarget missiles while the aircraft was airborne. This set in motion the airdrop of the palletized weapon deployment system from each aircraft. While stabilized and descending under-chute, this new deployment system sequentially released multiple JASSM-ER mass simulants and demonstrated the ability to safely de-conflict the airspace between weapon release intervals. This capability can provide combatant commanders greater flexibility to respond in dynamic operational environments.”
Beside AFRL’s SPDE office and Lockheed Martin, Naval Surface Warfare Center-Dahlgren; DoD’s Standoff Munitions Application Center; Safran; Systima Technologies, Inc.; and R4 Integration, Inc. participated in last month’s tests.
Last September, AFRL awarded Lockheed Martin an up to $25 million, 18-month contract to demonstrate the palletized munition capability for C-130s and C-17s to drop dozens of long-range cruise missiles (Defense Daily, Oct. 30, 2020). A C-17 could drop 32 JASSM-ERs, and the Air Force and Lockheed Martin have discussed the optimal load out.
In January last year, AFSOC released palletized munitions from an MC-130J tanker in three airdrops at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. Aircrew released five wooden pallets – dubbed Combat Expendable Platforms – stacked with six simulated munitions in both low and high-altitude airdrops. Four of the munitions were Cargo Launch Expendable Air Vehicles with Extended Range (CLEAVERs), a prototype long-range, high precision weapon developed by AFRL.
The current Air Force palletized munition effort is a successor to CLEAVER.
“The Rapid Dragon Program will complete a live-fire test with a production JASSM-ER from a cargo aircraft before the end of 2021,” AFRL said on Aug. 20. “These tests will inform potential design refinement and accelerate the maturation of these systems for further capability 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.”
Such advances “can provide combatant commanders additional flexibility to prosecute targets en-masse in the high-end fight, thus changing the adversary’s calculus in an increasingly complicated and dynamic near-peer conflict,” per AFRL.