US Air Force and Space Force look to rockets to transport supplies

US Air Force and Space Force l...
Artist's concept of a cargo rocket delivering medical supplies
Artist's concept of a cargo rocket delivering medical supplies
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Artist's concept of a cargo rocket delivering medical supplies
Artist's concept of a cargo rocket delivering medical supplies

The United States Air Force and United States Space Force are looking at rockets as a way to send supplies to inaccessible war zones and disaster areas. Led by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Rocket Cargo Vanguard will look at ways that commercial rockets can be adapted for logistical missions.

One of the constants of military operations is the vital necessity of maintaining the supply lines. Even the most brilliant generals can still see their advancing forces grind to a halt because they've got too far ahead of the food, fuel, and ammunition needed to replenish them.

The problem is that in combat and disaster situations, there are often conditions that make logistics extremely difficult to establish and maintain. The objective may be very far away, in very rugged country, or may need supplies in a very short time. For this reason, planners are always on the lookout for very fast, flexible ways of getting the supplies out.

As far back as the 1960s, the US Department of Defense looked at rockets as one way to quickly move not only supplies, but troops to distant parts of the world. These vehicles were envisioned as large, reusable single-stage transports using aerospike engines that could lift into orbit and then make a controlled, powered landing at the destination.

However, the technology of the Apollo era simply wasn't up to the task. Landing rockets were still in their infancy, the craft were extremely expensive, and the payloads were very small. Now the Rocket Cargo Vanguard program is taking another look at the idea, using large commercial rockets instead of government developed and operated vehicles.

For the project, AFRL will look at how to land such a rocket close to personnel and structures, as well as designing a cargo bay that can be quickly loaded and unloaded, and how to drop cargo from the rocket from the air. By using commercial rockets, the goal is to cut costs and speed development of the military versions, which will be leased by the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) from private companies.

"The Rocket Cargo Vanguard is a clear example of how the Space Force is developing innovative solutions as a service, in particular the ability to provide independent options in, from, and to space," says Chief of Space Operations General John W. "Jay" Raymond. "Once realized, Rocket Cargo will fundamentally alter the rapid logistics landscape, connecting materiel to joint war-fighters in a fraction of the time it takes today. In the event of conflict or humanitarian crisis, the Space Force will be able to provide our national leadership with an independent option to achieve strategic objectives from space."

Source: US Air Force

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Ralf Biernacki
I once tweaked game settings in Alpha Centauri to make "missile transport" units possible. I planned to use them for delivering probe teams, but they proved impractical even in the context of the game :-)

IRL, the cost of delivering cargo by rocket will be very close to the cost of delivering that same cargo to LEO. What kind of even military supplies are this critical?