Weapon Systems

MC-130J's night capabilities make it 1st pick for cruise missile delivery


The MC-130J Commando II with Rapid Dragon capability could greatly enhance a strike against a well-protected air defense battlespace.

Share this article

An MC-130J Commando II prepares to conduct a flyover in Florida last September 15. [US Air Force]
An MC-130J Commando II prepares to conduct a flyover in Florida last September 15. [US Air Force]

The US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC)'s MC-130J Commando II has now become the cargo aircraft of choice for deploying cruise missiles.

Of the US Air Force's C-130 family of aircraft, the MC-130J Commando II is especially suited for launching AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) cruise missiles via the Rapid Dragon system.

Developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office, Rapid Dragon is a palletized and disposable weapon module that enables unmodified cargo aircraft to deploy flying, typically cruise, munitions.

The program was first launched in 2019, and low-level production began in 2022. Full-scale production is expected to start this year.

The Rapid Dragon missile system utilizes a specially designed "deployment box" on a standard airdrop platform to deploy traditional weapons -- namely, the JASSM.

For its part, the MC-130J Commando II is a multi-mission combat and transport aircraft assigned to AFSOC that is capable of conducting a wide range of clandestine or low-visibility missions.

The Commando II primarily flies missions at night to skirt visual detection and interception by airborne threats.

It is designed to conduct single or multi-ship low-level infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions by airdrop or airland and can covertly penetrate politically sensitive or hostile territories.

Its missions include resupplying special operations forces, conducting air refueling missions for special operations helicopters or other aircraft and airdropping leaflets.

The MC-130J was the first of the C-130 family of transport aircraft to be developed specifically for special operations with a lighter, more efficient design.

The aircraft utilizes an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics.

Extended range

When combined with the JASSM-ER, the extended range version of the JASSM, the MC-130J can hit targets as far as 920km away in low detection strategic bombing missions.

The JASSM-ER carries a 454kg WDU-42/B penetrator warhead capable of destroying high value enemy targets. It is fired from aircraft unreachable by the adversary's area defenses and uses a stealthy design to evade detection.

The system uses a Global Positioning System-aided inertial navigation system and highly accurate infrared thermography to identify, image and strike enemy targets.

The JASSM-ER is proficient in destroying both hard targets such as aircraft hangars and underground command posts, as well as soft infrastructure targets such as rail yards.

The JASSM first saw action in April 2018, when two B-1 Lancers launched 19 of the missiles against suspected chemical weapon targets in Syria.

The current Rapid Dragon program offers a six-JASSM configuration for the C-130.

Most recently, the US Air Force's Air Mobility Command (AMC) conducted a successful test of the Rapid Dragon pallet system in the Indo-Pacific as part of Exercise Mobility Guardian last July.

"Now the adversary has an infinitely higher problem to worry about. [They] don't need to worry just about the bombers, [they] have to worry about this C-130 and every other C-130 on the planet," AMC Commander Gen. Mike Minihan told Aerospace DAILY after the successful test.

"C-130s can do it. All of our partners and allies fly them, so you can give the adversary an infinite amount of dilemmas that they need to worry about," Minihan said.

Do you like this article?

Captcha *


There is no god but ِAllah!


An excellent article.