The Pentagon is exploring the possibility of using SpaceX for rapid reaction missile forces

The Pentagon Suggests a future in which Elon Musk’s missiles could someday deploy a “rapid reaction force” to thwart a future Benghazi-style attack, according to the documents obtained by Olx Praca at the request of the Freedom of Information Act.

In October 2020, the United States Transportation Command, or USTRANSCOM, the Pentagon office tasked with delivering supplies to support the U.S. global military presence, announced that it was partnering with Musk’s rocket company SpaceX to determine the feasibility of quickly delivering cargo to and from space. Land, not fly them through the air. Target, according to a presentation by General of the Army Stephen Lyonsit would be to fly on the “S-17 [cargo plane] the equivalent anywhere in the world in less than 60 minutes.” incredible jump forward in military logistics previously limited to science fiction. A USTRANSCOM press release said that one day, the massive SpaceX Starship rocket could “quickly move critical logistics facilities under unforeseen circumstances” as well as “deliver humanitarian aid.” While the Pentagon hinted at the potential sending of unspecified “personnel” through these short space walks, the emphasis in the announcement was directly on the transport of goods.

But according to internal documents obtained through FOIA, USTRANSCOM has more creative use cases. In the 2021 Interim Report USTRANSCOM, compiled in partnership with SpaceX, has outlined both the potential uses and pitfalls for a fleet of paramilitary starships. While SpaceX is already functionally a defense contractor, launching U.S. military satellites and bolstering Ukraine’s communications links, the report provides three examples of possible future “DOD use cases for point-to-point space transportation.” The first, perhaps hinting at American concerns about Chinese hegemony, notes that “space transport represents an alternative method of logistical delivery” in the Pacific. The second suggests that SpaceX rockets will deliver the Air Force Base Deployable System, “a set of shelters, vehicles, construction equipment, and other equipment that can be pre-positioned around the world and moved to any location the US Air Force needs to conduct air operations.”

Partially edited illustration of the SpaceX Starship.

Credit: United States Transportation Command

But the third imaginary use case is more provocative and less prosaic than the first two, titled only “Embassy Support,” scenarios in which “the ability to deliver quickly direct from the US to a bare African base would prove critical to the Department’s support.” state mission in Africa,” potentially including the use of a “rapid reaction force,” a military term for a rapidly deployable armed force typically deployed in times of crisis. The document notes that the ability to simply “demonstrate” the use of a SpaceX spacecraft “may deter non-state actors from aggressive actions against the United States.” While the scenario is devoid of detail, the notion of a surprise attack on an African embassy by a “non-state actor” is reminiscent of the infamous Benghazi incident in 2012, when armed militants attacked a US diplomatic compound in Libya, prompting the emergence of a rapid reaction force. after was criticized for arriving too late to help.

As much as US generals dream of missile commandos fighting North African rebels, experts say the scenario is still the stuff of science fiction stories. Both Musk and the Pentagon have a long history of making big claims that dazzling and downright implausible technologies, whether safe unmanned vehicles as well as hyperloop or railguns and rocket lasers are just around the corner. As noted in another USTRANSCOM document obtained at the request of FOIA, all four Starship high-altitude tests resulted in a sharp explosion of the ship, although the test, conducted in May 2021 after the creation of the document, ended safely.

“What are they going to do, stop the next Benghazi by sending people into space?” said William Hartung, a senior fellow at the Quincy Institute who specializes in the military industry and the US defense budget. It doesn’t seem to make much sense. Hartung wondered to what extent a rapid reaction missile force would make sense even if it were possible. “If the mob attacks the embassy and calls for their handy SpaceX spacecraft, it will still take some time to get there. … It’s like someone thinks it would be really cool to do something in space, but didn’t think through the practical implications.” Hartung also pointed to the Pentagon’s experience with space “fantastic weapons” such as Star Wars Missile Defensecomplex projects that absorb huge budgets, but give nothing.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment. In an email to Olx Praca, USTRANSCOM spokesman John Ross wrote that “the interest in deploying PTP is exploratory in nature and our desire to understand what might be feasible is the reason we have entered into collaborative research and development agreements like the one for which you refer.” adding that “the speed of space transport promises to offer more opportunity and more decision-making space for leaders and dilemmas for adversaries.” Asked when USTRANCOM believes deployment of a missile-armed rapid reaction force is indeed possible, Ross said that the command “is looking forward to the future and believes it is possible in the next 5 to 10 years.”

“My two cents is that it is unlikely that they will be able to quickly evacuate anyone with a rocket,” said Caitlin Johnson, deputy director of the Aerospace Security Project’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. Johnson noted that even if the underlying technology were robust, there was little question of where to land the massive 165-foot Starship rocket, the largest in the world. “If it’s in the city they can’t land [a] Starship next to the embassy. In a hypothetical mission to rescue the embassy, ​​”you still have logistical problems getting the force to the booster and then again where you can land the car and how to get the force from the landing site to the base/embassy” – Johnson added. , “which hasn’t been tested or proven and is a bit sci-fi in my opinion.”

“What are they going to do, stop the next Benghazi by sending people into space? It doesn’t seem to make much sense.”

The document also points to another potential hitch: Are other countries going to let SpaceX military rockets fall from space into their territory? The vision of the American “Starship Troopers” is not new: back in 2006. one popular science reportThe Pentagon dreams of a time when “Marines can land anywhere on the globe in less than two hours without having to negotiate passage through foreign airspace.” But the USTRANSCOM document acknowledges that the Cold War space treaties provide little guidance as to whether a US missile can circumvent sovereign airspace issues by traveling through space. “It remains unclear whether vehicles are subject to established aviation laws and to what extent, if any, these laws follow them into space for PTP space transportation,” one section reads. “Moreover, the lack of a legal definition of the boundary between air and space creates the problem of where the application of aviation law ends and space law begins.” The document hints that part of SpaceX’s promise may be to overcome those concerns. Following an edited discussion of the legal status of a hypothetical military starship during the flight, USTRANSCOM noted, “This restoration takes the starship beyond the altitudes normally characterized as controlled airspace.”

Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Safe World Foundation, a think tank for space management, told Olx Praca that territorial issues are just one of many, “along with whether countries that a rocket/spacecraft flies over consider it as a weapon “. ballistic missile threat or not. Hartung argued that SpaceX, despite its “Mr. The image of “purity” as a means of peaceful exploration of space contributes to the global militarization of space. And, as with drones, once cutting-edge and all-American technology begins to spread, the US will have to face its consequences on the other side. “The question is what will prevent other countries from doing the same, and how will the US react to this?” Hartung asked. “The idea of ​​going anywhere without anyone’s approval is attractive from a military standpoint, but would the US want other countries to have the same capability? Probably no.”

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