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US Air Force conducts first test of arsenal plane concept

Cargo Launch Expendable Air Vehicles with Extended Range
A CLEAVER 2-pack pallet is deployed from the MC-130J aircraft during the test. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force has unveiled details of the first test of the palletized munitions airdrop as part of an undertaking to improve delivery of a large volume of air-launched weapons.

The Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Special Operations Command released simulated palletized munitions on January 28 from an MC-130J special operations tanker, in three airdrops at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah.

This successful Phase I operational demonstration represents a milestone in executing a palletized munitions airdrop.

In this case, munitions stacked upon wooden pallets, or combat expendable platforms (CEPs), deployed via a roller system. AFSOC used an MC-130J Commando II since its cargo area supported the release of multiple, relatively large munitions using tried and proven procedures.

AFSOC aircrew released five CEPs rigged with six simulated munitions, the same mass as the actual weapons, including four Cargo Launch Expendable Air Vehicles with Extended Range (CLEAVERs) across a spectrum of low and high altitude airdrops. These long-range, high precision weapons destroy moving and non-moving targets. While first envisioned by AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation (CRI), the CLEAVER is now led by program managers from AFRL’s Munitions Directorate (RW) at Eglin Air Force Base.

“In the end, the demonstration accomplished all objectives,” said Jerry Provenza, the AFRL CLEAVER program manager. In the three airdrops, all five CEPs separated cleanly from the aircraft, and the munitions separated from the CEPs.

“This successful [demo] is evidence of our commitment to evolve innovative weapons concepts and enhance our partnership with AFSOC to meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy,” said Col. Garry Haase, the director of AFRL’s Munitions Directorate. “CLEAVER represents a different approach to launching large numbers of long-range weapons, which will bring a new dynamic to the high-end fight.”

The employment of these weapons directly advances the Air Force palletized munition experimentation effort, an innovative concept in which a multi-engine platform carrying large quantities of network-enabled, semi-autonomous weapons accompanies remotely piloted aircraft and fighter jets in combat missions.

Das explains that the CRI is “in the business of innovation” by developing non-traditional solutions that address operational challenges. After assembling the subject matter experts (SMEs) and forming a collaborative team, the CRI developed the prototype CLEAVER.

For this Phase I demonstration, an AFSOC 27 SOW MC-130J aircraft flew to the range from Hill Air Force Base, accompanied by an ANG 137 SOW MC-12 chase aircraft flying from Salt Lake City International Airport. This turbo prop plane with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, made real-time observations, capturing photos and video during three airdrops.

In future demonstrations, AFSOC said it would release CLEAVER glider vehicles, powered vehicles, and full-up vehicles with optional warhead and terminal guidance.