US Military wants to play "Starship Troopers"

October 17 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Security   Year: Beyond   Rating: 3 Hot

Shane McGlaun over at DailyTech reports that US government officials are looking into a space-based method of transporting small groups of troops anywhere in the globe within two hours. “The goal of the program is to be able to insert a team of 13 soldiers anywhere on the globe in two hours.” Although many have described this as plain fantasy, the surprising thing is that officials are looking to start a program such as this as early as 2019, giving actual implementation a start date of 2030. (Check out the original doc here)

Is this a viable option?

It would be pretty handy to have ground forces anywhere you need them in just a few hours. The second an Embassy came under attack or an invasion of a friendly country started, a unit of special forces would be there to help keep a lid on things in the knick of time. And if you think a force of only thirteen wouldn’t be able to do much, you might want to check out some of the latest stuff the military is working on for the future.

Much like the book Starship Troopers, each soldier would probably have to enter the atmosphere in their own pod-like device which would not only have to withstand re-entry, but also slow down enough not to kill the passenger. With human exoskeletons becoming more advanced every year, it would make sense that by 2030 there would be a suit which could take much of the strain of impact off the passenger (as well as increase the firepower they are able to wield, turning a 13 man army into a force to be reckoned with). In effect, we’ll see the suits from Starship Troopers become a reality.

But the issue is that in the book they are invading other planets, where as here on Earth we’d just be traveling around our own globe.

What, a jet isn’t good enough? What about UAVs?

When space travel becomes dirt cheap (maybe the Japanese will let us use their space elevator) it could be a tantalizing option. And with an Army of One becoming more of a reality with the level of advanced weaponry in the future, this could just be where our military will be headed in a few decades. But for now, I’m not crossing my fingers.

Image: Katrine Thielke (Flickr, CC-Attribution)

Comment Thread (5 Responses)

  1. Given the Starship Trooper requirement for a permanent, and extensive, human presence on orbit, might I suggest a possible alternative drawn from the RAH novel Friday instead, the ballistic sub-orbital rocket transport?

    A primary transport of this type could move a unit such as you describe to any point on Earth in 2-3 hours (+ load time). Assuming the soldier’s individual “pod” could be manuvered by him through atmosphere subsequent to separation from the primary, that vehicle could then separate into several attack modules that essentially become glide bombs under autonymous control or by remote human control. The soldiers could glide their individual pod into a designated target, landing by any of several techniques.

    There would have to be an extraordinarily effective method developed to support/reinforce such a unit post-insertion, but I don’t believe any of what I’ve outlined here requires any advancement on existing technology to be deployed in active service (though the engineering challenges would be impressive). I expect the soldiers would insist on having the combat suit too.

    I know I would. :)

    Posted by: Will   October 18, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  2. Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine Deep Strike Pods?! Awesome!

    Posted by: StuartDobson   October 20, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  3. Update: “THE US military is planning a Thunderbirds-style space-plane designed to fly a crack squad of heavily armed marines to trouble spots anywhere in the world within two hours.” Check out the story here.

    Posted by: John Heylin   October 20, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  4. @Will – Rather than “glide bombs”, High Altitude Parachute supported weapons platforms sporting rockets/bombs/bullets to assume control of the area. Several of these could assume control of an entire area, neutralizing air defenses and clearing landing zones.

    For an interesting look at such devices, dont go all the way back to the vaguely similar fantasy of Starship Troopers, but check out the end of Rainbows End, by our good friend Vernor Vinge.

    Posted by: tk421   October 20, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  5. @ tk421

    I was deliberately trying to stay within the bounds of the Heinlein universe John set in his post. We agree that there are numerous alternative concepts available from other authors work – the Vinge/Rainbows End construct you cite indeed being a good example. I think that whatever works to suppress the initial LZ and disrupt enemy C3I – and possibly destroy some particularly critical piece of strategic infrastructure – at the least expense to the soldier’s mission would be perfectly acceptable.

    @ John

    I’m not familiar enough with the Thunderbirds mileau; is the “spaceplane” hypersonic? If not, the sub-orbital ballistic rocket is faster. Also, a spaceplane would be intended as a piece of re-usable hardware I’m assuming. That would require added cargo capability to adequately support the soldiers that my suggested rocket-as-munition scenario fulfills without the need for building and fueling a larger vehicle requiring greater levels of engine thrust.

    If the USAF is involved in this project, we can take as a given the bias toward complex, re-usable (need I mention piloted?) hardware.

    Why, yes, I was in the Navy. Why do you ask? :)

    Posted by: Will   October 21, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend