Palletized weapon destroys target in first live-fire test, concluding Air Force effort's initial phase

By Briana Reilly / December 17, 2021 at 9:38 AM

An armed cruise missile, deployed from a pallet dropped from an MC-130J, successfully destroyed its target during a capstone live-fire test this week as part of the Air Force’s Rapid Dragon program.

The Air Force Research Laboratory on Thursday announced the results of the latest flight test, held at Eglin Air Force Base, FL -- a demonstration that marked the end of the effort’s first phase.

Dean Evans, Rapid Dragon program manager at the service’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office, told Inside Defense in an email the end of the two-year-long initial stage, in which officials “worked toward a developmental prototype to demonstrate the live fire of a palletized munition,” would clear the way for a second, two-year-long push.

That phase, which he said “will mature this system to an operational prototype and integrate different weapons/effects,” will include a live-fire test with a cruise missile in the spring involving a C-17.

During the latest flight test, the Air Force Special Operations Command-flown MC-130J received new targeting data that was routed to its battle management system and uploaded to the missile flight test vehicle, allowing it to find its new target en route to the drop zone, per the release. Once there, a four-cell deployment system, including the vehicle and three mass simulators, dropped from the aircraft and the weights were sequentially released from the box.

The vehicle then deployed its wings and tail, the release said, ignited its engine and flew toward its target, destroying it.

The release notes the retargeting methodology deployed in the test “is designed to be transferrable to other strike and cargo platforms, potentially increasing the lethality of those aircraft.” But it didn’t name examples of the airframes it could be paired with.

This week’s demonstration comes in the month after the SDPE office held a separate test of the Rapid Dragon program at White Sands Missile Range, NM.

Evans noted the previous test involved a production line weapon without an engine or warhead, while this month’s included both.

In all, the latest AFRL release said, Rapid Dragon has seen five system-level flight tests over the last five months across three aircraft: MC-130J, EC-130SJ and C-17A.