According to The Intercept, the office of U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) at the Pentagon exploring SpaceX’s Starship as means to quickly deploy military reaction teams anywhere in the world.
The intel comes from documents the publication obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
USTRANSCOM partnered with SpaceX in 2020 to assess Starship’s viability for logistics. The Department of Defense wanted to see if transporting cargo to American efforts anywhere in the world aboard Starship, through space and much faster than an airplane, would actually be feasible.
While there was some mention of transporting “personnel” as well, that arrangement mainly revolved around transporting freight.
However, in a 2021 “Midterm Report” that was uncovered through The Intercept‘s FOIA request, USTRANSCOM outlined three potential use cases for militarized Starships. These included point-to-point space transportation of cargo, delivery of an Air Force deployable air base system with “shelters, vehicles, construction equipment and other gear” aboard a rocket, and “Embassy Support.”
The third application is described as the deployment of a “quick reaction force,” a military term for an armed unit deployed in crisis situations, in regions where the U.S. State Department’s mission requires military assistance.
SpaceX is already a military contractor. Elon Musk’s rocketry venture is also already working with the Pentagon on space transportation for cargo, so using Starships as military transports isn’t too big a leap.
According to the document, USTRANSCOM believes simply demonstrating the U.S. has the ability to dispatch armed military units via Starship “could deter non-state actors from aggressive acts toward the United States.”
The language of the report and the circumstances described therein indicate that this is meant to be a deterrent to something like the infamous Benghazi incident in Libya back in 2012.
USTRANSCOM spokesperson John Ross told The Intercept in an email that “the speed of space transportation promises the potential to offer more options and greater decision space for leaders, and dilemmas for adversaries.”
Asked for a timeline on deployments of U.S. quick reaction forces by rocket, Ross said the Pentagon believes “it’s possible within the next 5-10 years.”
Earlier this year, the Pentagon was impressed by how SpaceX defended against Russian signal jamming in Ukraine.
Starship is meant to take over all of SpaceX’s launches once the company establishes a reusable fleet. However, SpaceX is building the spacecraft with the overarching goal of one day enabling interplanetary travel.
The Pentagon, on the other hand, seems to think it could also be used to swiftly deploy the American military to crisis zones.
For the time being, both goals lie well into the future. Earlier this month, SpaceX finally received approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch Starship’s first orbital test flight.
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