The Pentagon is collaborating with Elon Musk's company SpaceX to explore the possibility of using the company's rockets to drop troops and equipment into global flashpoints.
USTRANSCOM is one of the military's unified combatant commands. It provides for the military's transportation needs and heavily relies on commercial infrastructure and technologies to carry out its mission of projecting and sustaining military power.
Among the hoped-for outcomes of the research agreement is a rocket-based "quick reaction force," which would place troops or equipment anywhere in the world on short notice by leveraging SpaceX's Starship, a fully reusable, super heavy-lift launch vehicle that's currently in development.
The DoD believes that Starship's fully integrated and reusable launch and landing system could feasibly be ready between 2025 and 2030, and it has some very specific scenarios in mind for using the technology.
"A rapid theater direct delivery capability from the U.S. to an African bare base would prove extremely important in supporting the Department of State's mission in Africa," the agreement reads. "The ability to demonstrate PTP [Point-to-Point] space transportation could deter non-state actors from aggressive acts toward the United States."
The less-than-subtle idea that the U.S. military could launch troops to Africa aboard a rocket was reported by The Intercept, which referred to the idea as a point-blank effort to stymie "a future Benghazi-style attack" by using militarized Starships to reinforce besieged complexes.
Despite the science-fiction overtones of the proposed project, rocket-based troops have long been in the sights of the DoD.
That project sought to visualize a future in which rocket technologies were co-opted by the military for use as battalion-sized troop transports that could respond to crises anywhere in the world within an hour.
Fast forward 60 years, and military leadership believes that vision is coming to fruition with the prospect of applying SpaceX technologies to the problems of modern warfare.
Still, it's unlikely that space-based Marines and rocketmen will be arriving on the battlefield any time soon, given the various technical and legal conundrums of crossing space and airspace with armed troops.
Nevertheless, the agreement noted two other key scenarios that would benefit from the technology.
The first is providing for critically vulnerable bases which are within the missile range of hostile forces. The second is providing logistical support to establish deployable airbase systems on the fly, which would help U.S. forces in conflict zones to set up wholly operational forward bases to provide force projection in regions without a permanent presence.
Notably, each of the scenarios would meaningfully augment the U.S.'s ability to conduct amphibious and island-hopping warfare in a potential conflict with communist China.