The US Air Force announced on September 30 it had tested deploying a “Palletized Munitions” weapon system from one of its huge C-17 cargo transports. The test involved simulated AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) cruise missiles being dropped not from a bomb bay, but wheeled out the back of the transport’s cargo bay on the same kinds of pallets used to load and unload cargo.
The release didn’t say how many simulated JASSMs were on the pallet, but the huge weapons are 14 feet long and weigh 2,250 pounds each. A typical 463L cargo pallet is 9 feet wide and 7.3 feet long and can hoist 10,000 pounds, so it likely takes two pallets to launch either one or two missiles at a time. The release also didn’t say if it was an original JASSM or a longer-range JASSM-ER; the former can hit targets up to 230 miles away, which the extended-range upgrade can reach up to 600 miles.
“A Palletized Munitions capability could enable various airlift aircraft to employ a range of weapons en masse via a self-contained, roll-on/roll-off palletized system, and may offer an alternative way for the Air Force to bring more mass to the fight,” Dr. Dean Evans, Palletized Munitions Experimentation program manager with the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) office, said in the Air Force release.
“The successful demo represents a key step in SDPE’s Palletized Munitions Experimentation Campaign, which will determine if the Palletized Munitions concept is feasible and provides a competitive advantage for the warfighter,” Evans added. SDPE is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
The test is part of a larger effort across the Air Force to develop an “arsenal plane” or “missileer” capable of launching the new family of long-range missiles the Pentagon has been developing for years. Weapons like the JASSM-ER and the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), as well as new hypersonic missiles like the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), are very big and have very long ranges, making an aircraft that can haul lots of them extremely valuable.
In May, the AFRL first tested the concept of a palletized munition by rolling a Cargo Launch Expendable Air Vehicles with Extended Range (CLEAVER) pack out the back of an MC-130J Commando II cargo aircraft. According to The Drive, the test most likely involved simulated AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW) glide bombs. During that test, the Air Force also used the term “bomb bay in a box” to describe the concept.
More recently, Air Mobility Command chief Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost said last month the Air Force had tested launching a simulated palletized Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), a kind of laser-guided bomb, from a C-17 as well.
The other aircraft being considered for the role are the B-25 Stratofortress, a lumbering strategic bomber built in the 1950s, and the B-1B Lancer, a powerful supersonic bomber with low-observable characteristics.