US Air Force continues program to convert cargo aircraft to missile platforms

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Lockheed Martin has been awarded a US$25 million contract to support the next phase of the US Air Force’s Palletized Munitions Experimentation Campaign, a project which is developing ways of converting cargo airlifters into platforms to launch missiles.

The US$25 million contract awarded by the US Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) Office will support the fourth phase of the service’s Palletized Munitions Experimentation Campaign. This phase will include a system-level demonstration next year and work  to assess the potential to deliver large volumes of air-launched weapons via airlifters.

Scott Callaway, director of advanced strike systems at Lockheed Martin said, “Despite the Palletized Munitions program being relatively new, it’s moving very quickly,”

“The US Air Force Research Laboratory contracting, SDPE offices and Lockheed Martin teams established this new contract in a record time of 30 days, supporting faster prototyping and a shorter timeline to bring this advanced capability to the warfighter in the field.”

The Palletized Munitions Experimentation Campaign aims to enable the launching of offensive operations from a greater number of airfields and engage a larger number of near-peer adversarial targets.

Studies so far show that airlifters have the potential to deploy large quantities of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) missiles. The US Air Force wants this to provide a significant increase in long-range standoff scale and complement traditional strike and bomber aircrafts.

The overall goal of the Campaign is to develop a modular system to deliver air-launched weapons, leveraging standard airdrop procedures and operations. The system will have the ability to be rolled on and off multiple types of aircraft, including the C-17 and C-130.

JASSM is a long-range, conventional, air-to-ground, precision standoff missile designed to destroy high-value, well-defended, fixed and relocatable targets.

Phase one of the Campaign successfully accomplished five high-altitude airdrops from an MC-130J, which is made by Lockheed Martin, and a C-17 earlier this year using simulated weapons. During these tests, the US Air Force tested the suitability of launching JASSM-ERs from an airlifter.

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before eventually becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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