The US Air Force (USAF) is moving to quickly arm its cargo aircraft with long-range cruise missiles. The motivation is fairly clear: in a war with China, the air arm will need all the firepower it can get, as David Axe reports.
The Rapid Dragon program adds canisters of joint air-to-surface standoff missiles (JASSMs) to C-130s and C-17s, potentially growing by hundreds the number of cruise missiles that a regional commander could lob at enemy forces during any given operation.
This system is striking in its simplicity. The kit includes a pallet that holds two canisters, each containing an extended-range variant of the Lockheed Martin-developed JASSM. The pallet is connected to a simple computer and to a parachute. Loadmasters deploy the missiles just like they would any cargo during an airdrop, essentially shoving them out of the back of the aircraft. The parachute deploys, the missiles pop out of their canisters and fire up their engines before zooming toward their designated targets.