TSgt. Bryan Ulloa, 445th Force Support Squadron Services Flight services manager, helps TSgt. Andrew Wagner, 89th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, load cargo on board a 445th Airlift Wing C-17 Globemaster III. Air Force photo by MSgt. Patrick O’Reilly.
Top Air Mobility Command officials have been meeting with leading private space companies to discuss a possible venture out of science fiction: Launching military materiel into space where it can be ready to drop on short notice when needed for a contingency.
And it could happen soon, AMC boss Gen. Carlton Everhart told reporters Thursday.
“What happens if we pre-position cargo in space? I don’t have to use terrestrial means. I don’t have to use water means. I can position it in space, have a resupply vehicle come up and come back down,” he said. “I don’t have to have people there, I just have to have cargo there—automated loading, those types of things.”
The goal is to get materiel around the globe as quick as possible “to affect that adversary,” he said. Everhart said the command is considering anything from Humvees to food and water, as long as it can survive in space.
He met with SpaceX and Virgin Orbit last week to discuss the possible use of launch systems, like SpaceX’s BFR super-heavy launch vehicle, to carry military materiel into orbit and eventually use space systems to rapidly deliver that materiel where it is needed. The thinking is it takes 10 hours to fly materiel around the world, when it could be dropped within 30 minutes if ready, Everhart said.
While the discussions are in the very early stages, Everhart said he could see actual concepts within five years, and that actual launches could happen within the next 10 years.
The first discussions happened with SpaceX and Virgin, though Everhart hopes to meet with Blue Origin in the near future. AMC’s section on future concepts is also visiting industry to discuss the possibility. AMC is working with Air Force Space Command, and it’s looking to exchange airmen to ensure that space is a part of mobility’s future.
The process could play out by having these companies serve as a Civil Reserve Air Fleet—by incentivizing them in peacetime through contracts to fly Defense Department materiel. And “when I need you in war time, you’re going to execute,” Everhart said.
He repeatedly warned that the idea is in its “infancy stages.” Everhart said AMC wants industry to come up with the concepts because “they’ll come up with innovative ways, they won’t be encumbered by the acquisition process.”
“We’re starting to spin this up pretty good … because what happens if we don’t do this, and we stay within just the air domain? Air Mobility Command will become irrelevant,” he said.