The Pentagon plans to use SpaceX as a rapid-reaction military force

The US Transportation Command is hoping that Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket can prevent the coming Benghazi.

The Pentagon envisions a future where Elon Musk’s rockets could one day deploy a ‘rapid reaction force’ to thwart future Benghazi-style attacks, according to documents obtained The Intercept Through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In October 2020, USTranscom (US Transportation Command), the Pentagon office in charge of transporting equipment necessary for the proper functioning of the American military presence in the world, announced that it was partnering with the SpaceX rocket company from Musk. Determine the feasibility of sending supplies into space quickly and bringing them back to Earth instead of flying them through the atmosphere. According to a presentation by General Stephen Lyons, the objective will be to provide ” Equivalent to a C-17 [avion cargo] Anywhere in the world in less than 60 minutes », which until now has been confined to science fiction, will constitute an incredible leap in military supplies. USTRANSCOM said in a press release that one day SpaceX could be the giant starship rocket “ Transport critical logistics quickly in time-sensitive situations ” and ” Providing humanitarian aid ” Although the Pentagon has hinted at the possibility of transporting unspecified “personnel” on these short jaunts into space, the emphasis has been on transporting cargo.

But USTRANSCOM has more imaginative uses, according to internal documents obtained through FOIA. In a 2021 “mid-term report” written as part of a partnership with SpaceX, USTRANSCOM outlined both the potential uses and pitfalls of a fleet of militarized spacecraft. While SpaceX is already effectively a defense contractor, launching US military satellites and strengthening Ukrainian communications ties, the report offers three examples of the future. DOD use cases [Department of Defense, ministère de la Défense, NdT] For point-to-point space transportation ” The first, which is perhaps a nod to American concerns about Chinese hegemony, notes that ” Space transportation provides an alternative method for delivering supplies A second in the Pacific envisions SpaceX rockets delivering an Air Force deployable airbase system,” A collection of shelters, vehicles, construction equipment, and other equipment that can be deployed around the world and anywhere the USAF needs to establish air operations. »

But a third imagined use case is more provocative and less unpleasant than the first two, titled simply “embassy support,” a situation where a ” A rapid direct in-theater delivery capability from the United States to an African base will prove critical to supporting the State Department’s mission in Africa. “, with a possible use of ” Respond quickly A military term for a rapidly deployable armed unit, usually used in crisis situations. The ability to simply “demonstrate” this use of space X craft, the document states, “ May deter non-state actors from aggressive behavior toward the United States ” Although the story is not specific, the idea of ​​an African embassy being the victim of a surprise attack from a “non-state actor” is reminiscent of the infamous Benghazi incident in 2012, when armed militants attacked a US diplomatic compound in Libya. It took much longer for the response force to effectively intervene. Criticized for coming late.

While US generals dream of rocket commandos fighting insurgents in North Africa, experts say the scenario is still science fiction. Musk and the Pentagon are used to making grandiose, stratospheric claims that astonishing and completely unimaginable technologies, whether safe self-driving cars, hyperloops, rail guns or laser missile launches, are at hand. Another USTRANSCOM document obtained through a FOIA request indicates four high-altitude tests of the starship involved a spectacular explosion of the craft, although one test conducted in May 2021 after the document was made landed safely.

What are they going to do, send people into space to stop the next Benghazi? said William Hartung, a senior fellow at the Quincy Institute who focuses on the arms industry and the US defense budget. “ It doesn’t seem to make much sense ” Hartung wonders how effective a rocket-based rapid reaction force would be, even if it were possible.” If a mob attacks an embassy and they call in their Space X spacecraft, it will take them a while to get there. […] It’s almost like someone thought it would be really cool to do things in space, but didn’t think about the practical implications. Hartung also pointed to the Pentagon’s track record of space-based “fancy weapons,” such as “Star Wars” missile defenses, sprawling projects that suck up huge budgets but get nowhere.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment. to an email address barrier, USTRANSCOM spokesman John Ross wrote that ” Interest in deployment PTP [Point to Point, NdT] i amExploratory in nature and our attempt to understand what might be possible is why we entered into cooperative research and development agreements as you mentioned. “, adding” The speed of space transportation promises more options and greater space for leaders to make decisions and dilemmas for adversaries ” When USTRANCOM felt that a rocket-deployed rapid reaction force might be realistically possible, Ross replied that the command was “ Excited about the future and think it is possible in the next 5-10 years. »

I think it’s unlikely that we can move anyone fast enough by rocket said Caitlin Johnson, deputy director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Johnson noted that while the underlying technology was sound, there remained the small question of where the world’s largest 50-meter-tall starship rocket would land. “ It’s not like they can land if it’s in a city [un] Next to the embassy is the starship “In the Imaginary Embassy Rescue Mission,” There is always the logistical problem of getting the force on the launch vehicle and then where to land the vehicle and get the force from the landing site to the embassy. “, Johnson added, ” Which has not been tested or proven and which in my opinion is a bit of science fiction. »

The document also nods to another potential snag: Will other countries allow SpaceX military rockets to launch and land on their territory? The unrealistic vision of American “starship troopers” is not new: in the 1950s, Nazi Wernher von Braun, who became a space hero, already planned to transport American troops by rocket, and in the 1960s, defense contractor Douglas Aircraft launched ‘Project Ithacas’. , a spacecraft that carries 1,200 soldiers to their destination an hour. More recently, according to a 2006 report popular scienceThe Pentagon dreamed of an era where Marines can land anywhere in the world in less than two hours without having to negotiate passage through foreign airspace. But the USTRANSCOM document acknowledges that Cold War-era treaties governing the use of outer space provide little guidance on whether a US rocket can avoid sovereign airspace issues by passing through space. “Under and to what extent, if any, these laws follow them into space for PTP space transportation,” it reads in a paragraph. Furthermore, the absence of a legal definition of the boundary between air and space creates the problem of knowing where the application of air law ends and where the law of space begins. The document indicates that part of SpaceX’s commitment may be to avoid these concerns. After a revised discussion of the legal status of a hypothetical military starship in flight, USTRANSCOM notes: This recovery places the starship outside the altitude normally designated as controlled airspace.. »

Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, a space governance think tank, said The Intercept That regional concern is only one of many,” Countries over which rockets or spacecraft fly are considered weapons or ballistic missile threats.. Hartung argued that SpaceX, despite Mr. Clean’s image as a peaceful enabler of cosmic exploration, contributed to the global weaponization of space. And as with drones, once an advanced and uniquely American technology begins to proliferate, the United States must deal with its implications in other directions. ” The question is what will prevent other countries from doing the same and how the US will feel about it. asked Hartung. ” The idea of ​​going somewhere without getting anyone’s permission is attractive from a military perspective, but does the US want other countries to have this same ability? Probably not. »

Translated by readers of the Les-Crises website

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