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SpaceX, DoD want to send soldiers on spaceships for rapid response missions

SpaceX, DoD want to send soldiers on spaceships for rapid response missions

Elon Musk's space enterprise wants to transport U.S. troops to any point on Earth in less than an hour. But its sci-fi pitch doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

Analysis | Military Industrial Complex

Imagine a group of gunmen are surrounding a U.S. embassy in a far-off country. The attackers are minutes from breaking through the building's walls, and they don't have good intentions.

Suddenly, a loud noise breaks through the shouts and gunshots coming from outside and the desperate calls for help coming from inside. A rocket lands in a nearby field, and American special forces pour out of the hatch. The soldiers quickly push back the militants and secure the embassy, saving our diplomats from likely doom.

This scenario may sound a little far-fetched. But, according to a 2021 report obtained by The Intercept, it's something that the Pentagon really wants to try. The document came out of a partnership between the Department of Defense and SpaceX, an Elon Musk company that aims to commercialize space travel and shipping. The embassy-saving example is perhaps the most striking of the "use cases" laid out in the report — and the least likely to work in practice.

"If a mob’s attacking an embassy and they dial up their handy SpaceX spaceship, it’s still going to take a while to get there," Bill Hartung of the Quincy Institute told The Intercept. "It’s almost like someone thinks it would be really neat to do stuff through space but haven’t thought through the practical ramifications."

Kaitlyn Johnson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies also had her doubts. "If it’s in a city, it’s not like they can land [a] Starship next to the embassy," Johnson told The Intercept.

The proposal, which DoD says is "explorative in nature" but could become a reality within 10 years, risks being the latest in a long string of botched attempts to bring sci-fi ideas to life. If it follows the path of President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative, it could end up being a massive waste of money. And if it follows the path of the V-22 Osprey — a Marine aircraft that can take off like a helicopter and fly like a plane — it could have deadly consequences.

The report suggests two other potential uses for SpaceX rockets that are less over-the-top, though experts say neither has a great chance of bearing fruit. First, the rockets could quickly deliver supplies to troops in the Pacific in case of a conflict in the region. Second, Musk's starships could deliver "deployable air base systems" that would allow the military to rapidly set up temporary air bases anywhere in the world.

Even if the military is somehow able to make these ideas a reality, a major question remains: How will the U.S. stop other countries from doing the same, leading to an arms race in space? On this point, the report gives no answer.

(shutterstock/delcarmat)|Editorial credit: Sundry Photography
Analysis | Military Industrial Complex
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