Air Weapons: Rapid Dragon Revolution


November 28, 2022: The U.S. Air Force has tested a novel system called Rapid Dragon for rapidly delivering cruise missiles. This involves placing the missiles on a cargo aircraft pallet. Four missiles are on each pallet in a 2x2 configuration. Currently the JASSM-ER air-to-surface missile is used. Each of these weighs a ton, with a 450 kg warhead and a range of 1,000 kilometers. Guidance is GPS with a slightly less accurate unjammable INS backup. The pallet is pushed out the back of a C-130 or C-17 transport. A parachute slows the pallet’s descent and stabilizes it whereupon the missiles launch. The transport carries a computerized battle management system that allows the GPS locations to be changed at the last minute before the pallet leaves the aircraft.

Rapid Dragon enables the air force to rapidly move these missiles to remote locations for immediate use in attacking a variety of targets, including SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions. Moreover the C-130 can operate from short airfields and make several flights a day to launch Rapid Dragon missiles. Each pallet weighs up to 9.9 tons and carries either JDAM-ER or anti-ship missiles with a range of 800 kilometers. Up to nine missiles can be carried on a pallet, depending on the size of each missile.

The system has been tested several times since it entered service in 2021. The latest test was in November off the north coast of Norway, which is adjacent to the naval bases of the Russian Northern Fleet.


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