The U.S. Air Force has further elaborated in its 2022 Fiscal Year budget proposal on its plans to develop a hypersonic rocket delivery system with a global reach to rapidly redeploy assets around the world. The system will carry up to 100 tons of cargo, and may also carry personnel. It will be able to reach any location on earth within an hour, which due to the U.S. Military’s global commitments would provide a rapid means of responding to potential challenges. On the Korean Peninsula, for example, a potential flare up in tensions could be responded to by several hundred tons worth of American assets being redeployed from the U.S. mainland within the hour – although the quantities of arms that will be moved in this way will likely remain very small due to cost. The U.S. currently relies on ships to transport the vast majority of its assets in the case of a major war, with aircraft carrying only a small portion of its forces due largely to cost. The proportion carried by hypersonic rockets will likely be much smaller still, but could still have a major impact on smaller scale conflicts. The carriage of each rocket transport is approximately equivalent to a C-17 transport – one of the smallest in the American inventory – although the possibility of developing transport rockets with a significantly larger capacity cannot be ruled out in future.
The Air Force intends to demonstrate the basic feasibility of its rocket logistics concept in a real end-to-end test in 2022, and had requested nearly $48 million of additional funding for this program under its 2022 Fiscal Year budget proposal. The service’s budget documents stated regarding the program: “The Department of the Air Force seeks to leverage the current multi-billion dollar commercial investment to develop the largest rockets ever, and with full reusability to develop and test the capability to leverage a commercial rocket to deliver AF cargo anywhere on the Earth in less than one hour, with a 100-ton capacity. The Air Force is not investing in the commercial rocket development, but rather investing in the Science & Technology needed to interface the capability with DoD logistics needs, and extend the commercial capability to DoD-unique missions.” It is expected that the program will be pursued in partnership with tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm, which has partnered with the Pentagon several times before. Experts have questioned the concept altogether, highlighting a number of issues including whether the rockets would need to land at ‘spaceport bases’ in allied territory, and how widely such bases would need to be built to make the program useful.