Japanese airlifter Kawasaki C-2 could become long-range “bomber”

Ministry of Defense of Japan will evaluate the use of palletized ammunition in the Kawasaki aircraft

The Kawasaki C-2 military transport freighter, the largest aircraft manufactured in Japan, will be able to take on strike missions. According to the Japan Times, the country’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) is considering using the aircraft as a long-range missile launch platform.

The outlet stated that the government of Japan would have even reserved an amount of 3.6 billion yen (about US$ 25 million) in the fiscal 2023 budget to start technical research with the Kawasaki plane.

The Japanese newspaper, citing ministry sources, says the proposal to launch missiles from the C-2 does not require major modifications to the aircraft.

The publication uses the United States Air Force (USAF) as an example, which has experience in launching missiles with freighters.

The C-2 can carry up to 37 tons of cargo (Hunini)

In 2021, the USAF conducted a flight-launch test of a “palletized munition” from the tailgate of a C-130 Hercules in the context of the USAF’s Rapid Dragon program (read more below).

The parachute payload contained an AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, which hit a target in the sea. According to the Japanese publication, there is a possibility that this system will be adopted in the C-2.

Palletized ammunition being loaded onto a C-130 Hercules (USAF)

Employing such a system on the Kawasaki C-2 aircraft would serve to improve Japan’s defense capabilities and provide a long-range means of attack, considering the context of current geopolitical tensions with China, as reported by the Japanese newspaper.

The JASSM missile, manufactured in the USA by Lockheed Martin, has a range of 900 km, being capable of hitting land and naval targets.

JASDF Kawasaki C-1 (Japanese MOD)

Replacement of the C-1 airlifter

The development of what would become the C-2 military freighter began in 1995, when MOD concluded that there were no aircraft in production that had the necessary characteristics for operation in the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF).

The C-2 flew for the first time on January 26, 2010. The plane was designed to replace another Kawasaki freighter, the former C-1. The aircraft with state-of-the-art features entered service in the country in 2016 and today the fleet has 15 active aircraft – including an RC-2, for electronic warfare.

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The C-2 can fly with a maximum payload of 37 tons, but this reduces its range to 4,500 km. Carrying 20 tonnes – the approximate weight of two palletized JASSM systems – the Kawasaki’s range rises to over 7,000 km. As a comparison, the KC-390 holds up to 26 ton (with limited range of 2,000 km).

New attack concept: palletized ammunition launch scheme evaluated in the Rapid Dragon program (USAF)

Rapid Dragon

A technological improvement of a rustic attack technique, the launching of so-called palletized munitions by cargo planes is the object of study of the Rapid Dragon program, conducted by the USAF since 2020.

The evaluations include tests with C-130 and C-17 Globemaster aircraft prepared to launch in flight the weapons containers that fire during the descent. With precision equipment and long range, the old technique of pushing bombs through the doors of freighters gained new meaning, in addition to the low cost of the operation by dispensing with a dedicated attack aircraft.

With a palletized ammunition system, Japan can transform the hitherto “peaceful” C-2 into a ferocious long-range bomber with few modifications.


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