Lockheed Martin and U.S. Air Force test Rapid Dragon munitions pallets

U.S Air Force personnel load a Rapid Dragon pallet onto an EC-130SJ aircraft ahead of an airdrop.U.S Air Force personnel load a Rapid Dragon pallet onto an EC-130SJ aircraft ahead of an airdrop. (photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

According to a recent Lockheed Martin press release the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin 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.

The pallets allow cruise missiles to be loaded onto craft like the C-130s manufactured in Lockheed Martin’s Marietta facility without modifications to the aircraft. The video below gives a visual explanation of how it works, with narration.

Video of the deployment of Rapid Dragon pallets

The Courier asked Lockheed Martin to explain what the Rapid Dragon munition pallets are, and Scott Callaway, Advanced Strike Programs Director at Lockheed Martin provided us with the following description:

Lockheed Martin’s JASSM-ER is an air-to-ground cruise missile designed to launch horizontally from pylons mounted to tactical fighters and strategic bombers such as the F-15E and B-1B. This stealthy cruise missile can fly very long ranges so warfighters can strike high-value and well-fortified targets while keeping their aircraft clear of highly defended adversary airspace.

Air mobility (transport) aircraft like C-17 and C-130 are equipped with rear ramps that can be opened in flight to airdrop cargo pallets to warfighters on the ground.

Rapid Dragon is a U.S. Air Force program to demonstrate the feasibility of putting cruise missiles like JASSM-ER in pallets so they can be airdropped the same way standard cargo is (these “missiles in a box” are called palletized munitions). Once the parachute stabilizes the pallet, its load of missiles drop vertically, deploy their wings, ignite their motors and fly to their targets. Palletized munitions like Rapid Dragon transform mobility aircraft into lethal cruise missile aircraft that augment the strike capacity of fighters and bombers. They provide combatant commanders the flexibility to strike from more airfields and engage more targets, with all of the benefits JASSM-ER provides as outlined above.

In partnership with the Air Force, Lockheed Martin recently conducted the first deployment of Rapid Dragon pallets and the first release of surrogate JASSM-ERs from C-17A and EC-130SJ aircraft. Activities encompassed all aspects of a palletized strike mission, from rolling pallets onto the aircraft up to missile release, including the retargeting of missiles while the aircraft is in flight. This system-level demo shows the feasibility of the palletized weapon concept and paves the way for airdrops featuring live JASSM-ERs, beginning later this year.

Lockheed Martin and Cobb County

The Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta has been a major employer in Cobb County since 1951, when the Lockheed Corporation, a predecessor of Lockheed Martin, took over the former site of the WWII Bell Bomber plant.

In response to a request by the Courier for a previous article, the spokesperson for the Marietta operations of the company wrote:

The C-130 remains the largest program at the Marietta site. We are currently building the C-130J Super Hercules and I’ve attached our updated Fast Facts for insights on that program. We’ve produced every production model C-130 at the Marietta site, which means Hercs have been rolling out of Marietta for almost 66 years. It’s staple here in Cobb County! You can learn more about the C-130J in our brochure located here.

We also provide support (i.e., sustainment) for the C-5 Galaxy, which wrapped up a major modification providing 52 C-5s with new engines and avionics, in 2018. We celebrated the C-5’s 50th anniversary in 2018 and expect to see that aircraft in service – thanks to its upgrades and unique hauling capabilities – until 2045. See press release for more information. We also support the P-3 Orion through Marietta-based teams. Additionally, we manufacture F-35 center wings here in Marietta.

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