The US Air Force will be able to boast its airlift carriers like C-17 Globemaster III or C-130 Hercules, as weapon carriers to be used in the event of a conflict.
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Scott Callaway, director of the Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Strike Systems division, revealed to the press that the Air Force Research Laboratory awarded the company a contract worth up to $25 million to develop a palletized munitions system.
The flight test for the new system is scheduled for next year, he added. “Despite the Palletized Munitions program being relatively new, it’s moving very quickly,” said Callaway.
“The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) contracting and Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (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,” he added.
As Russia and China are continuously modernizing their stealth technology and posing a serious threat, the US Air Force’s new contracting notice said that this “concept seeks to capitalize on current airlift capability to increase delivery of massed firepower.”
Initial studies have shown that airlifters have the potential to deploy large quantities of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) missiles. It will complement the traditional strike and bomber aircraft.
This new approach will enable launching offensive operations from a greater number of airfields and engage a larger number of near-peer adversarial targets.
“The overall goal of the experimentation is to develop a modular system to deliver air-launched weapons, leveraging standard airdrop procedures and operations,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement. It confirmed that the system will have the ability to be rolled on and off multiple types of aircraft, including the C-17 and C-130.
“Phase I successfully accomplished five high-altitude airdrops from an MC-130J (manufactured by Lockheed Martin) and a C-17 earlier this year using simulated weapons. During this effort, the US Air Force tested the suitability of launching JASSM-ERs from an airlifter.”
JASSM is a long-range, air-to-ground, precision standoff subsonic missile which is already integrated into the F-15E for the US Air Force. It has also been integrated with F/A-18A/B and the F-18C/D and is expected to be a part of F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft.
“We’re working with the Air Force now to come up with that optimal payload and optimal loadout,” said Callaway. “It’s partially a function of the deployment airdrop system, the missile being loaded onto the system and the range that the aircraft is flying. Obviously, as smaller munitions come online, we expect that loadout to increase without the need to design a new palletized munition system.”
He added that while C-17 is able to deploy 32 JASSM-ERs based on initial studies, the numbers could change during further development, Defence News reported.
Earlier in February 2020, AFRL announced the program and invited a request for information from contractors to develop the system. It also issued a list of its requirements, adding that companies could propose entirely new munitions specifically for the palletized system if they want, reported The Drive.
But the minimum requirements included range to allow airlifters to safely launch them from well outside the range of potential hostile air defences, which are only improving in capability.