Logistics Questions for the US Air Force Palletized Munitions Programme

  • A cruise missile was launched by special US Air Force operators from a cargo aircraft over Norway this month.
  • The first European live-fire test of so-called palletized munition was conducted.
  • The Air Force wants more long-range strike aircraft, but logistical challenges prevent it from being achieved.

In a first-of their kind test in Europe, US Air Force special operators and US and foreign military personnel dropped a missile on a pallet from an aircraft carrying cargo over Norway in early November.

It was another milestone. the US Air Force’s Rapid Dragon programThe US Air Force will be able to equip cargo aircraft with long-range attack capabilities to increase its strike aircraft fleet and make it more difficult to target US forces.

The US military is showing its allies how to use their cargo aircrafts in a similar manner, but the Air Force is still working out the logistics of operating those improvised Bombers.

MC-130J palletized munition cruise missile Norway Arctic

During a live-fire Norwegian test on November 9, a palletized munition fell from an MC-130J.

US Air National Guard/Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire

The test on November 9 took place inside the Arctic Circle at the Andøya Space Defense Range in northern Norway.

An MC-130J the special-operations variant of the C-130The UK-based 352nd SpO Wing deployed the Rapid Dragon Palletized Efficients System, which was designed by the Air Force Research Laboratory to launch long range cruise missiles using standard airdrop procedures.

The laboratory said that the pallets carrying Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range cruise rockets were “sequently released on a range above the Norwegian Sea.” saidIn a press statement.

352nd Wing releases footage that shows an MC-130J dropping a box, its parachutes unfurling, a missile deploying, flying under its own force before hitting the ocean and detonating.

This was the first rapid dragon test live since the December 2021 Gulf of Mexico test. It also marks the first test of the US European Command Area on responsibility.

Rapid Dragon has “advanced rapidly from an idea on paper, to a live flame using a development prototype in 24 month,” Dean Evans, program manager, stated in a release.

Rapid Dragon is now being used by Rapid Dragon, less than three years after its inception. [US Special Operations Command Europe]In the Arctic Circle. This is a testament of the team’s focus on rapid fielding,” Evans stated.

MC-130J palletized munition cruise missile Norway Arctic

A palletized munition falls from an MC-130J at Andøya Space Defense Range on November 9.

US Air National Guard/Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire

Rapid Dragon is now expandingFrom “palletized munitions to “palletized effect,” which includes “nonkinetic” munitions, cargo resupply and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, the AFRL said.

The exercise of November 9 was also part European Command’s Atreus series, which began in April 2021 with a goal to train with NATO forces on capabilities in Europe.

A videoUS Special Operations Command Europe released photos of US and Polish personnel training in “palletized precision effects cargo” on November 8.

“Provocative without being escalatory”

Poland C-130 palletized munition cruise missile

Polish and US personnel load palletized ammunition onto a C-130 in Powidz, November 8.

Special Operations Command Europe/Staff Sergeant. Brandon Julson

Rapid Dragon is designed to expand the aircraft fleet that can deploy long-range weaponry by incorporating cargo aircrafts like the C-17 or C-130 that can operate from more bases that traditional bomber aircraft.

Bolstering that fleet with aircraft that can operate from more bases is meant to frustrate adversaries that might target those aircraft and bases in a conflict — in line with other Air Force efforts to disperse its operationsEspecially in the Pacific.

“An MC-130J aircraft is the best for this capability because it can land and operate from a 3,000-foot highway and austere landing areas whereas a fighter cannot,” Lt. Col. Valerie Knight (352nd Wing mission commander) said in a release.

Knight said that a crew with the ability to drop heavy equipment can also deploy the Rapid Dragon pallet. This is in line with officials who believe the capability could be adopted elsewhere militaries.

Air Force MC-130J palletized munition

Before a November 2021 test, US Air Force personnel loaded a Rapid Dragon deployment system onto an MC-130J.

Air Force Research Laboratory

“The beauty about that capability is that it doesn’t require any modifications to an aircraft. It doesn’t require any special pilot training. It simply takes advantage the characteristics of that platform,” Lt. General Jim Slife, head US Air Force Special Operations Command, told reporters in September at the Air and Space Forces Association conference.

“We have a lot of allies that have cargo planes. They don’t necessarily have deep magazine heavy bombers, but if we can give them similar capabilities to use with the cargo platform we have, then our partners will become more capable.”

Slife stated that a C-130 could carry as many as ten passengers long-range precision munitionsA B-52 can carry two times as many, while a C-17 can hold three. The desire for more long-range-strike options is driven in large part by the emergence of adversaries with their own long-range arsenals — chiefly China, but also Russia.

From the Andøya range, major Russian bases on the Kola PeninsulaThe test would be within the range of the JASSM -ER, but it “isn’t signaling to Russia nor any adversary,” US Army Captain. Margaret Collins told The Barents ObserverIt was not done before.

MC-130J palletized munition cruise missile

During a November 2021 testing, a simulated cruise-missile deploys its wings/tail after it has separated from the palletized munition box.

US Air Force Research Laboratory

However, the US was “trying deter Russian aggression” through demonstrating enhanced capabilities with allies. Lt. Col. Lawrence Melnicoff stated. told Stars and StripesThe November 9 test is a week away.

“It puts Russia in range of this thing. We are intentionally trying not to be provocative but being escalatory,” Melnicoff, Special Operations Command Europe’s Lead Officer for Operation Atreus, stated.

The logistical challenges of expanding the number and locations involved in long-range strikes pose a problem, especially in the Pacific where the distances can be vast. facilities the Air Force wants to start using are often rudimentary.

Slife stated that logistical problems are a reflection of something “we’re paying a lot attention to right now. This idea that we’re going to operate within very distributed, austere types of environments and so on.” Even the most remote environments require some sort of logistics infrastructure.

“Part of the palletized munitions thing is weapons storage. How do we actually think about where we think we’re going with these weapons, how will they be configured, and do we really want them in the middle of a field next to a straight line of road? Slife also added. “We’re sort of working through the logistics implications for these types of concepts for our operation.”

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