The Rapid Dragon deployment system contained JASSM-ER long-range cruise missiles.
An MC-130J Commando II from the 352nd Special Operations Wing airdropped a Rapid Dragon deployment system containing long-range cruise missiles which were sequentially released on a range over the Norwegian Sea the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory announced. This was the first time Rapid Dragon, a precision munitions capability for medium-sized or larger cargo aircraft that allows U.S. and NATO forces a flexible rapid response option, has been employed in the U.S. European Command theater.
The activity was carried out as part of U.S. European Command-approved, U.S. Special Operations Command led Operational Series ATREUS, launched in April 2021 to identify and conduct training opportunities on capabilities found throughout the theater that enable response options to the U.S. and NATO allies and partners.
The one currently underway is the seventh iteration of ATREUS in the European theater but the first combined and joint effort with participation of regional allies (Norway, Poland, Romania, and the United Kingdom) as well as United States Air Force Europe-Air Forces Africa, United States Indo-Pacific Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific, and U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command.
Previous ATREUS events focused on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, capability: for instance, as we reported back then, on Saturday Oct. 23, 2021, in Sweden, a U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130J Commando II aircraft landed on a highway on Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, strategically located in the the Baltic Sea, and unloaded an M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System).
The latest test with the Rapid Dragon on Nov. 9, 2022, saw the MC-130J operate over Andøya Space Defense Range, off Andøya, about 300 kilometres inside the Arctic circle. The event could be tracked online thanks to ADS-B.
The Atreus event is happening 9 nov. The 352nd Special Operations Wing with their MC-130 J Commando II with first live fire test Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) right outside Andøya/Senja. #ATREUS @US_SOCEUR @Luftforsvaret @Forsvaret_FOH @ryankakiuchan pic.twitter.com/5ce1oGe2oj
— Selshevneren (@selshevneren) November 9, 2022
The Rapid Dragon Palletized Effects System, allows the deployment of long-range cruise missiles using standard airdrop procedures from a cargo aircraft. The AGM-158 JASSM (with a range in excess of 200 nautical miles) and its extended-range version, the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER) with a standoff distance of over 500 nautical miles, are GPS-guided radar-evading cruise missiles with 2,250-lbs penetrator/blast fragmentation warhead. The JASSM cruise missile employs precision routing and guidance in adverse weather, day or night, using an infrared seeker in addition to the anti-jam GPS to find and destroy high-value, well-defended targets.
Members of Polish Air Force, US Air Forces in Europe-Air Force Africa, and US Special Operations Command Europe conduct palletized precision effects cargo training onto a Polish C-130 Hercules on Nov. 8 in Powidz, Poland. Are those Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles? pic.twitter.com/OKH8MdQg0b
— Ryan Chan 陳家翹 (@ryankakiuchan) November 9, 2022
As the following video shows, after successful extraction, the AGM-158B JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range) missiles extend their wings and turn on the engine.
#BREAKING video from 352nd Special Operations Wing successful test fire of a palletized Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM). Successful extraction of deployment box, release of JASSM with wing extension, and motor engagement during exercise #ATREUS22 #SOFinEurope pic.twitter.com/3hLcXDJ3bl
— US Spec Ops Europe (@US_SOCEUR) November 9, 2022
“Now, more than ever we must take a different approach to accelerating capability to the warfighter,” said AFRL Commander Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle in the press release about the successful live fire test. “Rapid Dragon is a fantastic example of the speed at which technologists and warfighters can work — the design, development, prototyping and experimentation of new capabilities can get to the field on operationally relevant timelines.”
“The Rapid Dragon Experimentation Program is appropriately named, as it advanced rapidly from a concept on paper to a live fire using a developmental prototype in 24 months. Now less than three years from the program inception, Rapid Dragon is being used by SOCEUR in the Arctic Circle,” said Dr. Dean Evans, Rapid Dragon program manager. “This is a testament to the team’s focus on rapid fielding to meet warfighter needs.”
Interestingly, although the Rapid Dragon Experimentation Program has been focused on kinetic munitions, the program’s efforts are now expanding from Palletized Munitions to Palletized Effects, which include kinetic and non-kinetic munitions; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, or ISR, platforms; cargo resupply; humanitarian aid delivery. In other words, many different payloads can be airdropped using the same palletized system.
Dealing with the MC-130J Commando II, here are some details about the aircraft we posted in 2017.
The MC-130J Commando II, that has replaced the MC-130N/P Combat Shadow II aircraft, is the modern special operations variant of the Hercules, whose primary roles are HAAR (Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling) of SOF helicopters/tilt rotor aircraft, infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of SOF by airdrop or landing on remote airfields. Interestingly, the aircraft can also be used for FARP (Forward Air Refueling Point) operations to perform covert, nighttime refueling operations in deployed locations where fueling stations are not accessible or when air-to-air refueling is not possible.
The MC-130Js mainly operate at low-altitude and at night, conducting clandestine missions with reduced probability of visual acquisition and intercept by airborne threats.
According to the U.S. Air Force, the MC-130J features an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics; fully populated Combat Systems Operator (CSO) and auxiliary flight deck stations; 13 color multifunctional liquid crystal displays; head-up displays; fully integrated navigation systems with dual inertial navigation system and global positioning system; integrated defensive systems; low-power color radar; digital moving map display. The aircraft is equipped with new turboprop engines with six-bladed, all-composite propellers; digital auto pilot; improved fuel, environmental and ice-protection systems; enhanced cargo-handling system; Universal Air Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation (UARRSI), air refueling pods, Electro Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) System; dual SATCOM for voice/data; 60/90 KVA generators; increased DC electrical output, loadmaster/scanner restraint system; and LAIRCM provisions.