After three years of being laughed out of meetings, the U.S. Marine Corps’ futuristic plans to deploy through space may finally be getting some traction. Although the chuckle factor hasn’t altogether disappeared, the Air Force Research Laboratory and Darpa are beginning a study of options for a reusable upper-stage space travel vehicle — the same kind of technology that the Marines might need for a ride halfway across the globe.
The effort is called “Hot Eagle,” and it could be the first step forward in the Marine Corps’ hopes for space travel. Within minutes of bursting into the atmosphere beyond the speed of sound — and dispatching that ominous sonic boom — a small squad of Marines could be on the ground and ready to take care of business within 2 hours. [One presentation muses that the capsule might later be picked up by a Osprey or by a “balloon cable and C-17” transport plane. Or, the Marines might “hike out,” and “leave [the] crew capsule behind.” — ed.]
The Marine Corps calls the concept the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion Capability (Sustain). This plan, a growing group of Marine supporters say, is the natural evolution of the service’s proclivity for expeditionary warfare that began decades ago with amphibious landings, quick hops on helicopters, flights on fixed-wing aircraft and – very soon – rides on the Osprey tiltrotor.
The concept is to deliver strategic equipment or a small squad of soldiers to any point on the globe — even the most hard-to-reach location — within hours of need. Once on the ground, those soldiers can carry out strategically critical missions like reconnaissance or destroying a specific target.
…briefing notes obtained by Defense Technology International show the vehicle could be designed for a variety of missions, including “affordable, reliable” spacelift, global or theater intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and personnel insertion. One exotic use listed is “space-to-space ISR,” or spying on other satellites.
…A variety of other options for Marine space travel are also under consideration. For example, Darpa is spearheading the Falcon program to demonstrate a $5-million small-launch capability and separate hypersonic cruise vehicle. Four contractors are working on launch-vehicle concepts and the hypersonic cruise vehicle is being designed by Lockheed Martin.
…USAF Brig. Gen. (ret) S. Pete Worden – a research professor of astronomy at the University of Arizon and former top Air Force space official- says the Marine concept has credibility.
…”What is it that would change the war on terrorism in a dramatic way?” he asks. “If you could get people into place in an hour or so, that changes the whole complexion of the war on terrorism.” Worden notes a handful of times the government knew where high-value targets like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were located, but was unable to act quickly.