Check out this US Air Force cargo plane launching a cruise missile over Norway
WASHINGTON – The US Air Force used it for the first time in overseas tests Rapid Dragon systemin which cruise missiles on pallets are launched from the back of a mobile aircraft.
An MC-130J Commando II from the 352nd Special Operations Wing fired a joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range cruise missile using the system nicknamed. “Bomb in a Box” Wednesday at a range over the Norwegian Sea, the Air Force Research Laboratory said.
Project Manager Dean Evans Fast dragonsaid the successful test shows how quickly the program is developing, noting that it went from a concept on paper to a live-fire test within two years.
“Now, less than three years after the project started, the Rapid Dragon is in use [U.S. Special Operations Command Europe] In the Arctic region,” Evans said in a statement. “This demonstrates the team’s focus on a fast pitch to meet the needs of the Warriors.”
The command released a video online Wednesday that shows the test process at Norway’s Andoya Space Defense Range from several angles. A parachute attached to the Rapid Dragon’s deployment box is dropped from the MC-130’s open cargo hold, which then deploys and quickly ejects the pallet from the aircraft.
The rocket pod sheds its deployment parachute and deploys a quartet of other parachutes that anchor it. When the deployment box is vertical, it fires a JASSM-ER missile downward. Within seconds, the rocket’s wings and tail crack and its engine ignites, leaving a trail of exhaust in its wake.
It was the first Rapid Dragon test since the Air Force destroyed a target in the Gulf of Mexico in December 2021, and the first time the concept was used outside the continental United States, the Air Force Research Laboratory said.
A longer video of the test, released by the Pentagon, showed the cruise missile hovering over the sea for about 2 minutes before detonation. When asked if the target was destroyed, the laboratory did not directly respond, but said that all objectives were met.
Additional photos released by the Air Force showed American and Polish pilots practicing loading straw ammunition onto a Polish C-130. That training took place on Tuesday in Powidz, Poland.
The lab says the program has so far focused on kinetic munitions, but is now turning its attention to adding “pelletized effects.” Those impacts include intelligence, reconnaissance and reconnaissance platforms, cargo replenishment and humanitarian aid delivery, it said.
The Air Force hopes the concept will allow the U.S. and its allies to turn cargo planes into heavily armed bombers that can engage enemies at a safe distance, giving combatant commanders more options for delivering firepower.
The lab said the test took place as part of US European Command’s Atreus operational series, which aims to conduct training activities on capabilities identified in Europe. The 352nd Special Operations Wing is based at RAF Mildenhall, England, and the MC-130 was from the wing’s 67th Special Operations Squadron.
This trial was Atreus’ seventh event and, in addition to Norway, also included allies from the United Kingdom, Poland and Romania.
Previous Atreus training activities have focused on using the high-mobility artillery missile system with allies from Romania, the UK, Sweden and Latvia.
Stephen Losey is Defense News’ air warfare correspondent. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues for Air Force Times and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare for Military.com. He traveled to the Middle East to cover US Air Force operations.
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