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Posted on Oct 16, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Marines from Outer Space. No, Really.

Gerald D. Swick

Somewhere in the Great Beyond, Robert Heinlein is smiling. The U.S. Marines want to make his Starship Troopers a reality within the coming decades.

Rapid-response Marines could be delivered anywhere on the globe within a couple of hours, inserted from a space station via small craft designed to carry 13 warriors each. Since national air space ends 50 miles above the earth, they could pass over multiple international boundaries without needing to seek permission. (Remember, Turkey turned down the U.S. request to move troops through it during the Second Gulf War, and that had significant impact on what happened in post-invasion Iraq.) Of course, diplomatic issues could still be raised by the country to which they’re inserted. (Think Pakistan today.)

A USA Today article by Tom Vanden Brook and several Web sites, including, provide details on the program and the difficulties it faces if it is to become reality.


In a way, this is reminiscent of the challenges the Marine Corps confronted between the world wars. Traditionally, landing parties had been sent ashore at port cities, using small boats sent out from bigger ships. New amphibious invasion techniques developed by Holland "Howlin’ Mad" Smith and others during the peacetime years made possible the landings in the Pacific, Normandy (Yes, the Army adopted those techniques, too.) and elsewhere.

As with the Space Marine concept – apologies to Games Workshop; the U.S. Marine program is officially called the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion program – 20th-century attempts at creating new ways to insert amphibious troops required challenging existing doctrine and finding the technology to make new methods possible, such as Higgins boats and Amtracs.

Is the concept daunting? Oh, yeah. Is it possible? Moon landings, computers small enough to use at home, and portable telephones that take pictures were all considered science fiction within my lifetime.

And never, ever, underestimate what a few determined Marines can accomplish.


  1. I’ve read about HALO jumping that Army rangers & Navy Seals
    have performed. HALO jumping means high altitude, low open.
    That involves jumping from a plane at over 80,000 feet or so,
    and opeing their chutes at around 10 to 20 thousand feet or less.
    But, if they can actually ride in a vehicle from 50 miles
    (264,000 feet) up right down to the ground w/o anything
    happening to the craft, more power to them.
    Doing a HALO jump would escape radar though.

  2. Cap Marines? Starship Marines….? Still “just” Marines. 😉

  3. This is a nice concept, my question is what does it accomplish that the current hi-lo insertions doesn’t? The Marines will still be stranded in
    hostile territory without means of replenishment. Fix that part first, or alternatively work on something that reall would make Heinlein proud i.e. a
    completely self-sufficient armor for the Marines. Then the method of insertion will be of less importance.

  4. It seems to me that replenishment can be handled the same way
    as insertion. Extraction is the big problem, but really no more so
    than with any other non-conventional means of insertion. As to
    the unique advantage of this inserion means, I think the
    bypassing of adjoining national airspace is the key.

    The problem, it seems to me, is the enormous — and I mean really
    really enormous — cost of getting this craft and the Marines in it
    into low orbit, along with whatever additional supplies are
    required to sustain the operation.

  5. With the cancellation of the EFV and the STOVL version of the F-35 Lightning II in jeopardy, why don’t we see if the Marines can just focus on Amphibious Warfare in the 21st Century first.

    Just like the Army “adopted” those amphibious techniques from the Marines, I’m sure the Army will be up to the challenge of fielding ‘Space Soldiers’ when needed…Just like they did with the Airborne units and the Air Assault as well.