A standard cargo airdrop of the Palletized Munition Deployment System from a C-17A. A 4-pack configuration is used for demonstration purposes.
A standard cargo airdrop of the Palletized Munition Deployment System from a C-17A. A 4-pack configuration is used for demonstration purposes.

Lockheed Martin Demonstrates Rapid Dragon Palletized Munition Capability from C-17 And EC-130

In partnership with the U.S. Air Force, Lockheed Martin recently deployed Rapid Dragon munition pallets from C-17 and EC?130 aircraft and released surrogate JASSM-ERs in system-level flights conducted over White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Rapid Dragon is a fast-paced U.S. Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) program that has moved from concept to surrogate missile deployment in just 10 months. The Rapid Dragon team conducted an airdrop from a C-17A Globemaster III and another from an EC-130SJ Commando Solo. In both flights, aircrews deployed a pallet at an operationally relevant altitude.

“These Rapid Dragon deployments represent the first end-to-end demonstration of a palletized strike mission, from rolling missile pallets onto an aircraft to in-flight missile release,” said Scott Callaway, Lockheed Martin Advanced Strike Programs director. “They are a big step toward showing the feasibility of the palletized munitions concept and the ability of mobility aircraft to augment the strike capacity of tactical fighters and strategic bombers.”

A Lockheed Martin graphic of Rapid Dragon palletized munition release

The ability to retarget missiles while the aircraft is airborne provides combatant commanders the flexibility to respond to changes in a dynamic operational environment. SDPE and Lockheed Martin are conducting additional tests in coming months, culminating in an MC?130J airdrop of a real JASSM-ER under powered flight by the end of 2021. Once stabilized by parachutes, the pallets released surrogate missiles in quick succession, each aerodynamically identical to a JASSM-ER. A ground crew transmitted new targeting information to the Rapid Dragon system during both flights via beyond line-of-sight communications.

Rapid Dragon could ultimately lead to a roll-on, roll-off system that transforms mobility aircraft into lethal strike platforms that augment the strike capacity of tactical fighters and strategic bombers. The retargeting methodology used is transferrable to other strike and cargo platforms, potentially increasing lethality of all JASSM-capable strike assets. These new capabilities 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.

Once the Palletized Munition Deployment System was stabilized under the parachutes, JASSM simulants were released sequentially, timed for safe separation between munitions. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)