Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Amateurs talk about tactics; professionals study logistics.” He was right — for all of the military might the United States has at its disposal, it’s not the firepower, the troop count, or even the advanced technology that makes America’s military such an imposing global presence; it’s the supply lines. Now, the Pentagon is mulling over the idea of bolstering those supply lines by launching rockets on missions that take them not into space… but to other locations on this planet.
“They have talked about moving cargo in space, and we’ve sat down with SpaceX and had that discussion,” said Air Force Materiel Command head, Gen. Maryanne Miller. We won’t commit any resources, but we’ve committed to work with them to see how quickly they progress.”
The United States military boasts a truly global logistical infrastructure, built on a network of hundreds of military installations, established on foreign soil, and practical alliances established between the U.S. and nations with shared values or interests. There’s no place on the planet American troops can’t rapidly get to and operate, with resupplies coming by way of naval and airborne assets scrambled from any number of nearby and far off locations. America is the best in the world at putting troops where they need to be and keeping them supplied with what they need to manage difficult circumstances… but in a number of ways, being “the best in the world” simply isn’t good enough.
The problem is, as well equipped as the U.S. military may be when it comes to moving supplies and gear around the world, it’s still an awfully big world. The vast majority of the aircraft the U.S. relies on to move supplies around the planet are capable of only subsonic flight (meaning they can’t achieve speeds greater than 767 miles per hour). The earth’s surface is a little shy of 200 million square miles, so it doesn’t take particularly hard arithmetic to begin to grasp the limitations of even America’s massive supply infrastructure.