Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

Matra BAe Dynamics (MBD) has unveiled a concept for deploying cruise missiles from a converted Airbus airliner fitted with twin stern launcher tubes. A modular missile storage and handling system occupies the passenger deck.

The missile builder is also exploring the use of the system with the Airbus Military Company A400M airlifter. The scheme supersedes a plan to push a missile-laden pallet from the rear ramp.

The concept is being developed as part of the UK's ongoing studies for the Future Offensive Air System to replace Royal Air Force Panavia Tornados. Conventional combat and unmanned aircraft are also being considered.

An airliner could carry more than 30 conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCMs). The rear bulkhead would be modified to support twin launch tubes passing from the passenger deck and beneath the tail at a 20-30° angle.

A modular roll-on/roll-off weapons storage and handling system would occupy the passenger deck, feeding missiles - stored nose forward - back to the launcher tubes.

The handling system would raise the weapon from its horizontal storage position to an inclined stance for presentation to the launch tubes. The missile would drop tail first from the airliner before engine start.

Graham Thompson, MBD air-launched weapons technical executive, says: "The bulkhead modification permits normal, fully pressurised, airliner operation during the cruise phase, with a descent to lower altitude and depressurisation immediately prior to CALCM launch. Following launch, the aircraft is repressurised. This cycle can be repeated at will."

While the launch tube modification would be permanent, Thompson says the airliner would not need to be role-dedicated. "It is perfectly feasible for tanker-transport aircraft to be modified, reducing initial procurement costs."

MBD is also exploring the system's use with other airlifters, including the Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130J. MBD has briefed the Royal Australian Air Force on the concept as an option for the replacement of General Dynamics F-111s.

Source: Flight International