Based on the advertised commercial capability and business objectives, the AFRL is currently assessing emerging rocket capability across the commercial vendor base and its potential use for quickly transporting DOD materiel to ports across the globe.
“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,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. “Once realized, Rocket Cargo will fundamentally alter the rapid logistics landscape, connecting materiel to joint warfighters 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.”
Delivering cargo via rocket transportation is not a new concept. Historically the high costs of launch have been prohibitive for a logistics-focused application, and the relatively small payload capability constrained the types of cargo that could be delivered, also limiting its suitability. Today several commercial companies are quickly generating new opportunities by developing large rockets and reusable stages that safely land back on earth, expanding cargo capacity and dramatically reducing launch costs.
“Rapid logistics underpins our ability to project power,” said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., commander of Air Force Materiel Command. “That is the fundamental motivation for initiating the Rocket Cargo program. We see its initial applications in swiftly restoring operational capability for forces forward in austere environments as well as dramatically reducing the time required to deliver crucial humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”
Under the new Rocket Cargo Vanguard, the DAF will seek to leverage these commercial advances and position the DOD to be an early adopter of the new commercial capability. This approach is a marked departure from the past, where the U.S. government led rocket technology development and bore the brunt of the cost. Today, with the commercial space launch providers developing the advanced rockets, the DAF will instead primarily invest in the S&T needed to quickly adapt the capability to the DOD logistics missions, and then be the first customer procuring the new commercial capability through service leases.
The military utility of the new capability includes support to the United States Transportation Command resupply mission. AFRL is closely partnered with USTRANSCOM to assess the trade space of a potential Rocket Cargo capability for global logistics, including potential improvements in delivery cost and speed compared to existing air cargo operations. Potential mission applications include special airlift to deliver equipment needed to quickly restore a loss of mission operations, and humanitarian aid and disaster relief payloads to stricken areas.
Rocket Cargo joins three current Vanguard programs, including Skyborg (an autonomy core system in a low-cost, attritable unmanned aerial platform to enable autonomous operations); NTS-3 (a flight experiment to examine and field capabilities across the ground, space and user segments to enhance space-based positioning, navigation, and timing); and Golden Horde (an initiative to demonstrate collaborative autonomous networked weapons by creating an integrated weapon system where different technologies work together to defeat targets).
Vanguard programs rapidly advance emerging weapon systems and warfighting concepts through prototyping and experimentation. With these programs, the DAF aims to deliver game-changing operational capabilities that provide warfighters with superior advantages on the battlefield in the next decade.