The US military envisions a future in which battalion-sized troop vehicles powered by rocket technology could respond to emergencies anywhere in the world. Towards this end, Pentagon wants Elon Musk to drop soldiers into conflict from space.
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In order to assess the idea of utilizing SpaceX’s rockets to deliver troops and equipment into international flashpoints, the Pentagon is working with Elon Musk’s firm.
According to a research agreement that was initially obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request and made public on June 19, the military’s engagement with the private aircraft industry spans a wide range of research endeavors.
The U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and SpaceX are working together “to collaboratively investigate commercial space transportation capabilities as a transportation mode to expedite global delivery of Department of Defense (DoD) material and personnel,” according to the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (read below).
One of the unified combatant commands for the military is USTRANSCOM. In order to fulfill its goal of projecting and maintaining military power, it caters to the mobility demands of the military and extensively depends on commercial infrastructure and technologies.
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Military programs are increasingly turning to commercial space technology in order to adapt them for use by the military at a considerably lower cost than if the military were to build its own technologies from scratch.
A rocket-based “quick reaction force” is one of the desired results of the research agreement. This force would send troops or equipment anywhere in the world quickly by utilizing SpaceX’s Starship, a fully reusable, super heavy-lift launch vehicle that is now under construction.
The DoD has some very specific scenarios in mind for employing the technology and estimates that the launch and landing system for Starship might be functional between 2025 and 2030.
“A rapid theater direct delivery capability from the U.S. to an African bare base would prove extremely important in supporting the Department of State’s mission in Africa,” the agreement reads. “The ability to demonstrate PTP [Point-to-Point] space transportation could deter non-state actors from aggressive acts toward the United States.”
The Intercept reported on the less-than-subtle suggestion that the U.S. military may send troops to Africa on a rocket in a direct attempt to thwart “a future Benghazi-style attack” by utilizing weaponized Starships to bolster besieged installations.
Despite the project’s science fiction connotations, the DoD has long had rocket-based troops on its radar.
The “Ithacus” project (pdf), which was first proposed in 1964, described “a concept for a rocket-powered troop transport which may potentially evolve from the reusable booster of tomorrow.”
In that project, the military envisioned a future in which battalion-sized troop vehicles powered by rocket technology could respond to emergencies anywhere in the world in less than an hour.
After 60 years, military leadership now believes that vision is becoming a reality with the potential to use SpaceX technologies to address the challenges of modern warfare.
“For the past 75 years or so, we have been constrained to around 40,000 feet altitude and 600 miles per hour in our very fastest method of logistics delivery—airlift,” then-USTRANSCOM Deputy Commander Navy Vice Adm. Dee Mewbourne said in 2020. “Now, what are the possibilities for logistical fulfillment at about 10 times those figures, when the need for support on the other side of the world is urgent? It’s time to learn how our current strategies to project and sustain forces can evolve with a new mode of transportation.”
However, considering the numerous logistical and legal challenges involved with transporting armed soldiers across space and the air, it is unlikely that space-based Marines and rocketmen will be making an appearance on the battlefield anytime soon.
Nevertheless, the agreement listed two additional crucial situations where the technology would be advantageous.
The first is securing extremely vulnerable bases that are in hostile forces’ missile range. The second is offering logistical support to create deployable airbase systems on the spot, which would assist American forces in crisis zones in establishing fully functioning forward bases to provide force projection in areas where they do not have a permanent presence.
Notably, under each of the possible outcomes, the United States’ capacity to engage in amphibious and island-hopping combat against communist China would be much improved.
Read the document below: