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Precision Strikes Unleashed: US Air Force Deploys Rapid Dragon Bσмb with MC-130J Aircraft

The US Air Force has, for the first time in an overseas trial, utilized its Rapid Dragon system to launch cruise missiles on pallets from the rear of a mobility aircraft. An MC-130J Commando II from the 352nd Special Operations Wing deployed a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JᴀssM-ER) cruise missile using the system, also known as the “bσмb bay in a box,” over the Norwegian Sea, according to the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Dean Evans, Rapid Dragon’s program manager, highlighted the program’s rapid progress, moving from a conceptual idea to a live-fire test in just two years. Evans explained that Rapid Dragon’s use by US Special Operations Command Europe in the Arctic Circle demonstrates the team’s commitment to swiftly addressing warfighter needs.

A video released by the command displays the test process at Norway’s Andøya Space Defense Range from various angles. The MC-130 aircraft ejects the Rapid Dragon deployment box attached to a parachute, which then unfolds and quickly extracts the pallet. The plummeting box sheds its deployment parachute, deploys four additional parachutes for stabilization, and vertically releases a JᴀssM-ER missile. The missile’s wings and tail quickly deploy, and its engine ignites, leaving an exhaust trail.

This test marks the first live-fire Rapid Dragon trial since the Air Force destroyed a target in the Gulf of Mexico in December 2021 and the first time the concept was employed outside the continental US. The Air Force Research Lab stated that the program has primarily focused on kinetic munitions, but will now shift its attention to incorporating “palletized effects,” including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance platforms, cargo resupply, and humanitarian aid delivery.

The Air Force aims to enable the US and its allies to convert cargo aircraft into heavily armed bσмb trucks capable of engaging enemies from a safe distance, providing combatant commanders with more options for delivering firepower.

The test was conducted as part of the US European Command’s Atreus operational series, which seeks to train on capabilities found in Europe. The 352nd Special Operations Wing is based at RAF Mildenhall in England, with the MC-130 belonging to the wing’s 67th Special Operations Squadron. The test was the seventh Atreus event and included allies from the United Kingdom, Poland, and Romania. Previous Atreus training events focused on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, involving allies from Romania, the UK, Sweden, and Latvia.

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