US Air Force Turns Cargo Planes into Bombers Using Pallets

The simple yet genius move vastly increases the Air Force's long-range missile launching capabilities.
Fabienne Lang
Palletized munitions dropping out of a C-17Air Force Material Command

The U.S. Air Force has been working hard on keeping its fleet of aircraft up to par for modern warfare, including its long-range missile-launching options. From mid-air drone launches to pallet missile-launchers out of cargo planes, the Air Force has its hands in many pots. 

Some of its latest tests involved dropping pallets stacked with missiles and parachutes out of cargo planes, essentially turning the aircraft into long-range bombers.

The Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) office is in charge of the Palletized Munitions weapon system, as it's called, which has been testing mock scenarios since 2019, when the program began. 

The program has been testing Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs) that are put on pallets with parachutes, and launched out of C-17 cargo planes or MC-130J planes. It's as wonderfully simple as that.

US Air Force Turns Cargo Planes into Bombers Using Pallets
An MC-130J drops a pallet with JASSM deployment box in March 2021. Source: U.S. Air Force

"A Palletized Munitions capability could enable various airlift aircraft to employ a range of weapons en masse via a self-contained, roll-on/roll-off palletized system, and may offer an alternative way for the Air Force to bring more mass to the fight," explained Dr. Dean Evans, Palletized Munitions Experimentation Program Manager with SDPE. 

The hope is that the "missile in a box," as the Air Force calls it, can be deployed from hundreds of different aircraft for long-range missile strikes. As it stands, the Air Force believes it can pack 32 of the extended-range version of the cruise missile into one C-17, reports Forbes.

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Given the Air Force owns over 200 C-17s, as well as hundreds of C-130s, the Palletized Munitions weapons system could launch many many missiles on long-range missions. The Air Force currently has around 150 heavy bombers that are capable of such long-range missions. Add to that the hundreds of C-17s and C-130s, and the Air Force has a much higher number of missiles able to be launched en masse in the future.