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Airdrop Cruise Missiles On Wooden Pallets: U.S. Air Force’s Solution To Spruce Up Its Airlift Aircraft

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Airdrop Cruise Missiles On Wooden Pallets: U.S. Air Force's Solution To Spruce Up Its Airlift Aircraft

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Is your airlifting aircraft feeling underwhelming?

The US has the solution – fill it up with guns – so that your run-of-the-mill C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III can become “heavily-armed weapons trucks capable of airdropping large bundles of munitions that deliver a massive blast.”

Until now, the US Air Force has carried only two successful tests of “palletized munitions” from the C-130 and C-17, said Maj. Gen. Clint Hinote, the deputy director of the service’s Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability cell.

“We are in discussions right now about how do we proceed to prototyping and fielding,” he said during a May 27th event held by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

And it is, of course, it is natural and understandable that every sane European (because it is likely they would be used in exercises, as well as in a potential conflict) would consider something first: hopefully they use EUR-pallets so they comply with all bureaucratic requirements.

And the answer is: no. Because the munitions and weapons are loaded onto something called a “smart pallet” which would feed the munitions tracking and targeting information as they are dropped from an airlift platform.

The request for information, published back in February, characterizes it as a “bomb bay in a box” that could allow mobility aircraft to stay out of a threat zone and launch a mass of standoff weapons.

“It’s all about capacity,” Hinote explained. “You’ve got to create enough capacity so that a long-range punch is really a punch. What we see is that no matter how big our bomber force is, the capacity that the joint force needs is always more and more. And so this is why we think that there is a real possibility here for using cargo platforms to be able to increase the capacity of fires.”

Air Force Special Operations Command conducted one demonstration of the technology on January 28th.

A C-130J performed three airdrops of simulated palletized munitions at at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah.

“In this case, munitions stacked upon wooden pallets, or Combat Expendable Platforms (CEPs), deployed via a roller system,” the Air Force Research Laboratory said in a May 27th release. “AFSOC aircrew released five CEPs rigged with six simulated munitions, the same mass as the actual weapons, including four Cargo Launch Expendable Air Vehicles with Extended Range (CLEAVERs) across a spectrum of low and high altitude airdrops.”

And yes, “simulated long-range cruise missiles” were delivered via off-the-shelf pallets, as well as an Air Force designed crate system.

CLEAVER is a new weapon under development by the lab as part of a separate effort, though it may be used in palletized munitions in the future.

On February 27th, Air Mobility Command conducted a similar demonstration with a C-17, which conducted two airdrops of simulated palletized munitions.

In the future tests, more advanced forms of simulated munitions as well as full-up weapons vehicles that can be configured with a warhead and terminal guidance system are planned for airdrops.

Expectedly, just using a wooden pallet to deliver a cruise missile seems somewhat crude.

Five companies responded to the request for information. And it is interesting what technological solutions they will come up with.

Then comes the question of who commands this upgraded aircraft, because the way it delivers weaponry and destruction is similar to that of a bomber or a fighter jet, in a way.

“Some kind of extremely streamlined command and control is going to be necessary, or else you must have an integrator somewhere,” said Hinote, who added that cultural barriers inside the Air Force could be harder to overcome than the technological challenges of creating palletized munitions.

Funding is also a concern, since it is uncertain that it will get funded at all.

“We’re in the last year of an administration. We’ve had to turn in the budget early with not too many changes, and we’re looking at the possibility of a continuing resolution where new starts are going to be difficult to do,” he said.

However, “that is all temporary,” he said. This optimism is just what soldiers on the ground need, since there is (arguably) no greater frustration that needing an urgent cruise missile or an armored vehicle loaded with weapons and it being a hundred kilometers away, at the least.

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