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The Air Force Discovered How to Turn Cargo Planes Into Bombers: Part 2

A JASSM cruise missile, with a C-130 Hercules in the background.

Richard BakerGetty Images

This is the second part to The Air Force Discovered How to Turn Cargo Planes Into Bombers.


The AGM-158 JASSM conventionally armed cruise missile has a range of 230 miles, so at its maximum range, a C-130 carrying the missile might not be detected by enemy air defenders. Meanwhile, a longer-range version, JASSM-ER, has a range of 575+ miles, and an even longer legged version, -XR (extreme range), reportedly has a range of 1,100 nautical miles

The Air Force currently operates 158 heavy strategic bombers capable of carrying a dozen or more JASSMs at once. A B-2 Spirit can carry 16 JASSMs, the B-52 can carry 12, and the B-1 bomber can carry 24.

The Air Force thinks it can launch 32 JASSM missiles from a single C-17 transport and launch an unknown amount of missiles from a C-130 (though it’s fewer than 32). The Air Force operates more than 300 C-130 Hercules aircraft, and 222 C-17 Globemasters.

The deployment box doesn’t make a transport plane into a super penetrating bomber. It does, however, mean the Air Force could surge a potentially huge number of transports into the bomber role on a particular operation, using them in conjunction with dedicated bombers to deliver an overwhelming strike.

The Air Force could then return the planes to their regular transport duties. At the same time, having a large stable of non-stealthy cruise missile shooters could free up stealthy bombers like the B-1, B-2, and upcoming B-21 Raider to conduct more dangerous missions closer to enemy lines.

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