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Rapid Dragon completes system-level flight-test series

Airmen and riggers with the 1st Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron load a Rapid Dragon Palletized Weapon System aboard an MC-130J Commando II at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on 13 December, 2021. (USAF)

The US Air Force Rapid Dragon Program successfully completed its final system-level flight test on 16 December with “a live fire of a current inventory cruise missile armed with a live warhead” as part of an airdropped palletised weapon system at the Eglin Air Force Base Overwater Test Range, Florida.

Previously designated the Palletized Munitions Program, Rapid Dragon is an accelerated research campaign led by the US Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL's) Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office to assess the operational utility of delivering large volumes of palletised long-range strike weapons from military cargo aircraft. Rapid Dragon advances a roll-on, roll-off capability that uses standard airdrop procedures without modification to the aircraft, transforming combat mobility aircraft into lethal strike weapon platforms that complement or augment the strike capacity of tactical fighters and strategic bombers.

During the December test, a US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) MC-130J Commando II multimission combat transport received new targeting data in-flight, which was subsequently relayed to a cruise missile flight test vehicle (FTV), believed to be a Lockheed Martin AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER). “The aircraft agnostic battle management system's in-flight receipt and upload of the new targeting data into the FTV was a first-time achievement with a live cruise missile,” the AFRL said in a statement on 16 December.

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