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Military officials eye inserting troops anywhere on the globe in two hours by rocket

In the future, U.S. troops could be on the ground in hotspots anywhere on the globe in only two hours. This may sound like science fiction, but it is exactly what a group of civilians and military officials met to talk about at a two-day conference.

The meeting's purpose was to plan the development of the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) program. USA Today reports that the invitation to the conference called the idea a "potential revolutionary step in getting combat power to any point in the world in a timeframe unachievable today."

The biggest challenge for the SUSTAIN program is certainly the technology. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Brown, a spokesman for the space office said that the next step in the plan is addressing technological challenges and seeking military input.

The goal of the program is to be able to insert a team of 13 soldiers anywhere on the globe in two hours. John Pike, a military analyst told USA Today, "This isn't even science fiction. It's fantasy." Pike says that the concept defies physics and the reality of what a small number of lightly armed troops could accomplish.

Burt Rutan, the rocket pioneer who won the X Prize in 2004 for building a private spacecraft capable of flying into space says that the plan is technologically possible. Rutan wrote in an email to USA Today, "This has never been done. However, it is feasible. It would be a relatively expensive way to get the troops on the ground, but it could be done."

The need for a program like SUSTAIN was restated in 2005 in a document from the Marines titled the Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare Capability List signed by Gen. James Mattis. The document called for the program to be realized as early as 2019.

2005 wasn't the first time military officials have dreamed of inserting soldiers into combat zones from space; the concept has reportedly been discussed sine the 1960's. General Wallace Greene mentioned the capability in a speech from 1963 and hoped Marines would be in space by 1968.

The technology needed for such a force would likely make SUSTAIN a viable program by 2030 according to military analyst Baker Spring. Spring says that it will be just as important for military officials to determine what such a small number of troops could do if they were inserted into a hot zone by rocket.

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the SUSTAIN program in many minds is how safe will it be. Rockets have to be light to reach space and the bulk of their weight is fuel to reach space. Significant challenges for the program will center on a ship that can carry enough fuel to reach space and then be able carry enough fuel for lift off and removing the soldiers from the battlefield.

It would seem that the rocket ship would be very vulnerable as well. It would be virtually impossible to design a ship armored enough to withstand any incoming fire on ascent or decent to a battle. The ship would also not likely be able to carry any weapons of its own.



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RE: Why?
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 10/17/2008 12:50:01 PM , Rating: 3
A cruise missile can be sent faster and do more damage than 13 soldiers, without ever considering the time to deploy 13 troops.

Perhaps they anticipate sending a fleet of these, so there would be 100 missiles with 1000 troops to deploy, assuming a small shoot down rate.

On the other hand, if you wanted to deploy them at altitude, they parachute in, and then take out personal targets. Now that would scare the heck out of heads of state, because now they are targets in any conflict.

Of course, you have to write the troops off once they are inserted. There has to be a better way of making a living...

Then again, this would add a lot of excitement to stand-by military flights. Shades of Dr. Strangelove.


RE: Why?
By masher2 (blog) on 10/17/2008 1:00:45 PM , Rating: 4
> "A cruise missile can be sent faster and do more damage than 13 soldiers"

13 soldiers can do things a cruise missile cannot -- things like rescue hostages, retrieve lost or stolen items, and locate targets whose precise position may not yet be known.

It's rather like arguing over what's better-- a screwdriver or a hammer? Both are necessary, and have their roles.

> "Of course, you have to write the troops off once they are inserted. "

Err, why? They're only inserted in two hours. They can be extracted in a few days.


RE: Why?
By snownpaint on 10/17/2008 5:27:38 PM , Rating: 4
Agreed.. However.
Shooting Cruise or IC missiles at countries isn't a good idea. No Country likes seeing missiles on their radar, even if they are not the target.

At the same time fast deployment with reduced bases of operations, help increase security and reduce scramble logistics. I can see why the military is interested.

NASA has explored the difficult prospect of making a failing object land nicely, and determined it isn't as easy as one hopes.

Unlike Paratroopers or HALO missions it is hard to bury a landing vehicle. Self Destruction still leaves your traces and technology you may not what laying around.

I'm a fan of "leave no man behind". Cowards are people that allow fear to overpower what is right. You may have to take losses on a mission, but you can at least make sure the soldiers are properly buried where the family can visit to mourn.


RE: Why?
By MrDiSante on 10/17/2008 5:48:34 PM , Rating: 1
This entire debate is pointless. Go read Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers: all the points you're going to come up with for and against are covered in there, as well as a bit of an interesting implementation of such an idea.

And I mean read the book, not watch the abomination that is the movie.


RE: Why?
By masher2 (blog) on 10/18/2008 2:05:37 AM , Rating: 2
I first read that book some 30-odd years ago.


RE: Why?
By BarkHumbug on 10/20/2008 11:24:22 AM , Rating: 2
That was the first thing that came to my mind as well! Excellent book by an excellent author. Movie sucks big time though...


RE: Why?
By mcturkey on 10/17/2008 7:03:17 PM , Rating: 2
Precisely. There are some things that 13 marines could do that a cruise missile cannot. If we receive actionable intelligence that a highly sought-after enemy were in a heavily populated location where a cruise missile would cause considerable collateral damage (eg. basement of a schoolhouse), deploying some Marines would make it possible to take out or capture that target with far less risk to the local population. No guarantees of course, but it presents a practical alternative when a direct missile strike is an unpalatable option.


RE: Why?
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 10/20/2008 7:49:39 AM , Rating: 2
Shades of Blackhawk Down, now.


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