- Space Marines, the staple of military science fiction, will probably remain fiction for the foreseeable future.
- Ground troops trained for space operations are too expensive to maintain.
- Space Marines would also require specialized transports to ferry them into space.
Space Marines aren’t happening—not now, and not in the foreseeable future. That’s the disappointing news from a recent conference on science fiction and naval warfare.
During last week’s NavyCon 2021, the U.S. Naval Academy-sponsored conference in which speakers discuss the intersection of present-day military matters and sci-fi, an aerospace expert determined that ground troops aren’t just limited in space—a domain that lacks actual “ground”—but it would also be extremely expensive to train, equip, and transport them.
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In a paper titled “In Space, No One Can Hear You Oorah,” systems engineer Brian Kirkpatrick destroys the hopes of sci-fi fans who think the Colonial Marines from the Aliens movies and Warhammer 40,000 games could become a reality. While the establishment of the U.S. Space Force in 2019 was a major step forward, the final step of deploying troops in space is “probably not” ever happening, Kirkpatrick said at NavyCon.
Space is the latest of the military “domains”—air, land, sea, and cyber—and the hardest to square against the Pentagon’s existing structure. In order to get into space, you need to fly through the air, which technically makes it an extension of the Air Force’s domain.
On the other hand, spacecraft and spaceflight is in many ways more similar to how the Navy operates in its own domain. For more than half a century, no single service was able to lay a decisive claim to space, and today’s Space Force operates under the Air Force in the same way the Marine Corps operates under the Navy.
But there’s a service missing in the tug of war over space: the Army. Space has a distinct lack of territory for ground troops to fight over. At the minimum, the “ground” is 200 miles below, on Earth. That hasn’t stopped sci-fi writers, however, from drumming up space ground troops, or “Space Marines”—those laser-wielding warriors typically depicted on alien planets long after normalization of interplanetary travel.
There are other reasons why Space Marines won’t become a reality. Task & Purpose points out that training and equipping Space Marines, and building a fleet of spacecraft to transport them from Earth into orbit, would be “incredibly expensive and dangerous.” There are no current human-rated spacecraft that could carry enough Marines to make it worthwhile.
But let’s say a vehicle like Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) upcoming Dream Chaser spaceplane—a “multi-mission space utility vehicle designed to transport crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit destinations such as the International Space Station, in SNC’s words”—does fit the bill, and Marines do go into space.
In that event, their most promising mission may be to act as saboteurs. Space Marines, armed with bolt cutters and other tools, could damage or destroy enemy satellites, rendering them useless to the war effort.
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