The United States Air Force, in late 2021, launched its first test prototype of a new bombing system. The system is the first of many Air Force palletized weapon systems. The Air Force created the plan in a lightning-fast 24 months.
The name: Rapid Dragon
The term Rapid Dragon originated in ancient China, a siege machine that allowed the ancient Chinese military to launch multiple arrows at once. It can be assumed that the US Air Force took inspiration from the ancient machine and used the name to catch the attention of Xi Xingping, China's president. Along with the catchy name, the program also directly responded to the Chinese military's rapidly advancing technology. The United States proved they could develop weapons from concept to development prototype in just 24 months. The Air Force likes to continue the rapid advancement and bring the program to an operational prototype within two years.
Palletized weapon systems, simply put, are weapon systems that are compactly attached to a pallet instead of being dropped from a conventional bomber, fighter aircraft, or ship. They are significant because they can be carried by any cargo plane that can handle the system's weight, making operations much less expensive. The Air Force tested the Rapid Dragon from a C-130J Commando II. In the future, the Air Force plans to use C-17 Globemaster. The larger the cargo plane, the more palletized weapon systems can be carried and used in various missions.
According to the Air Force Research Laboratory, during the test, the C-130J flew to the drop site, released the Rapid Dragon, parachutes deployed, angling the system down. The cruise missiles deployed fell toward earth, released their wings, and engaged their engines to gain flight stability. While flying targeting information was sent to the missile, the missile adjusted course and successfully hit the target. The test was the first-time targeting data was sent to a missile during the flight instead of preloading.
The Air Force will attempt to launch multiple different weapons from the same pallet in future tests. Meaning the pallet, or as the Air Force calls it, "box," could house one cruise missile and three different guided bombs or other systems. The Rapid Dragon proves the concept of shared air targeting data, which furthers combat communication. Friendly troops on the ground or in the sky could send cruise missiles launched from Rapid Dragon systems and send the most current targeting data to the missile making real-time adjustments. The Air Force plans to test again in the Spring of 2022 from a C-17 Globemaster.