White Sands tests cargo plan for ‘creating a more lethal force’

New Mexico News

An AFSOC MC-130J airdrops a Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) instrumented JASSM deployment box at White Sands Missile Range, March 2021. | Image Courtesy Air Force Research Laboratory

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The U.S. Air Force has been experimenting and developing new ways to turn transport planes into temporary bombers, according to a news release.

As part of the annual Emerald Warrior exercise — a training program designed to test various military capabilities under realistic conditions — the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office got one step closer to being able to deliver missiles “en masse” by parachuting them out of a cargo plane, according to a May 14, 2021 news release.

The Joint-Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles or JASSM, are generally launched from bombers, such as the B-52, or fighter jets, like the F-16, according to the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. They are touted as reliable, precise, and lethal, by the manufacturer’s website.

According to open-source data from The Missile Threat, some bombers can carry 24 missiles, but fighter jets have limited missile-carrying capacity, only flying with one or two of the lethal weapons. As an alternative, by dropping them out of cargo planes, the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office is supporting the Air Force’s priority of “creating a more lethal force,” according to the press release.

The strategic development group, which is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory, has been working on the missile-delivering design since 2019 and has now figured out how to ensure that the air-dropped missiles remain stable as they fall from the cargo plane, the release says. A similar demonstration in Florida in 2020 provided additional proof-of-concept.

The missile delivery test follows a ramp-up of JASSM missile acquisition within the Air Force, according to 2019 news reports. These cruise missiles have a range of about 230 miles, according to The Missile Threat, and saw their first combat use against Syrian chemical weapons facilities in 2018, according to Popular Mechanics. But those were launched from jets, not from cargo planes.

The Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office is planning a live-fire demonstration of the cargo plane-delivered missiles later this year, according to the press release. KRQE News 13 reached out to the Air Force Research Laboratory for comment did not receive a response.

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