USAF launches next phase of ‘arsenal airlifter’ project

by Gareth Jennings

The US Air Force (USAF) has commenced the next phase of its effort to use its fleet of fixed-wing transport aircraft as launch platforms for long-range munitions.

The USAF is experimenting with utilizing its fixed-wing transport aircraft, including the MC-130J special mission Hercules, as launch platforms for long rage munitions. (Lockheed Martin)

The USAF is experimenting with using its fixed-wing transport aircraft, including the MC-130J special mission Hercules, as launch platforms for long-range munitions. (Lockheed Martin)

The USAF Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) Office awarded Lockheed Martin a USD25 million contract to support the fourth phase of the service’s Palletized Munitions Experimentation Campaign (PMEC), under which airlifter such as the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules would be used as air-to-surface weapons delivery vehicles.

“Initial studies show that airlifters have the potential to deploy large quantities of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range [JASSM-ER] missiles, providing a significant increase in long-range stand-off scale and complementing traditional strike and bomber aircrafts. This innovative approach enables warfighters to launch offensive operations from a greater number of airfields and engage a larger number of near-peer adversarial targets,” Lockheed Martin said on 28 October. “The overall goal of the experimentation is to develop a modular system to deliver air-launched weapons, leveraging standard airdrop procedures and operations. The system will have the ability to be rolled on and off multiple types of aircraft, including the C-17 and C-130.”

As noted by Lockheed Martin, Phase I of the PMEC effort successfully accomplished five high-altitude airdrops from an MC-130J Commando II-variant Hercules and a C-17 earlier this year using simulated weapons. During this effort, the USAF tested the suitability of launching JASSM-ER long-range cruise missiles from an ‘arsenal’ airlifter, so named on account of the large quantity of munitions it would be able to carry.

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The US Air Force (USAF) has commenced the next phase of its effort to utilise its fleet of fixed-win...

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