Status Report

Testimony of Richard C. Brigadier Zilmer Given at a Senate Science, Technology, and Space Hearing: Space Exploration

By SpaceRef Editor
July 31, 2003
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The Testimony of General Richard C. Brigadier Zilmer, USMC Director, Strategy and Plans Division, Plans, Policies, and Operations, Headquarters, Marine Corps

US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation

Given at a Science, Technology, and Space Hearing: Space Exploration

Wednesday, July 30 2003 – 2:30 PM – SR-253

Chairman Brownback, Senator Breaux, distinguished members of the Committee; it is my honor to present to you the Marine Corps’ perspective on how NASA’s space exploration capabilities are critical to the Marine Corps’ warfighting strategies of the future. Your sustained interest in and commitment to fully exploiting the opportunities offered by space for commerce, science, and transportation will contribute directly to the preservation of our Marine Corps’ expeditionary character, and our Nation’s security.


In recent years many have asked why the terrestrially-oriented Marine Corps takes such an interest in contributing to the roadmaps for national security, commercial, and scientific space in the future. It is true, that unlike National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other DoD entities, the Marine Corps has neither programmatic nor fiscal equities in space. Yet our operational equities in space exploitation for both military advantage and expeditionary reach are at least equal to those of other users. These needs lead us to exploit space-related capabilities. For affordability, we must coordinate and synthesize our technology needs with other DoD and non-military users having similar requirements related to space exploration. Multiple customers having fully coordinated needs and objectives to avoid duplication are critical for the National affordability of any bold space vision today and in the future. We are therefore determined to remain engaged and contribute constructively to the challenges and opportunities of space, to seek out developmental partnerships, and to avoid cost-prohibitive duplications of effort. An energized NASA will be an important enabler for the Marine Corps in realizing such capabilities.


With regards to the Marine Corps’ role in space exploration and manned space flight, we are proud of the historic role we have played in opening up space as a medium of great practical utility. It is notable that The Honorable John Glenn, a Marine, was the first American in space to orbit the earth. Many Marines have followed in his footsteps, participating as trained astronauts and crewmembers in several manned space programs over the years. For example, just last year Major General Bolden retired after a career that included his participation as an astronaut in the Space Shuttle Program.

From the earliest days of our involvement, we have made both intellectual and inspirational contributions to the Space Program. We have and will continue to help define the critical roles that space will play in national security. Interestingly, it was our 23rd Commandant, General Wallace Greene, who first marked Marines as true space visionaries. In 1964 he accurately foresaw the use of suborbital space to transport Marines at hypersonic speeds for responsive global assault support. Though his vision was technologically ahead of his time, the Marine Corps did take a major step towards realization prior to his passing earlier this year. On 22 July 2002 Lieutenant General Emil (Buck) Bedard signed the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) need statement, blazing a trail to a new expeditionary assault support capability for the next chapter of Marine Corps history. Its eventual operationalization could fulfill Commandant Greene’s vision, enabling speed of response, range, altitude, and strategic surprise unimaginable even by today’s expeditionary response standards.


Mission areas related to Space Control and Global Strike are currently being adopted into Marine Corps warfighting concepts and capabilities. As a result, we established a Marine Component in support of United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), namely MARFORSTRAT. As the Marine Corps matures these advanced capabilities in the years and decades ahead, MARFORSTRAT will provide a transformational expeditionary capability that projects the most psychologically effective component of our traditional character, the Marine on the ground.

The SUSTAIN need frames a capability to transport a strategic capability from CONUS to any other point on the globe within two hours of an execution decision. It is important to note that SUSTAIN does not deliberately seek out a space transit capability for its own sake. However, we are also aware that the hypersonic transport speeds requirement, combined with the need to overfly non-permissive airspace enroute may necessarily drive the material solution into space. The SUSTAIN concept includes strategic capabilities options that span the spectrum from autonomous weapons payloads to the landing of Marines on the ground. The range of force application options reflects the validated warfighting assumption that frequently machines and munitions alone will not be able to replace the effectiveness of ìsituationally curiousî soldiers in theater, and the persuasive psychological value of their presence to the mission at hand.

The SUSTAIN capability includes a need to insert, execute, and extract composited-modular and relatively self-sufficient and supported larger capability sets without the need to violate any uncooperative or physically non-permissive airspace enroute. This challenging requirement is projected for initial operational capability (IOC) between 2025 and 2030. We intend to approach members of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) to refine a Joint requirement, by means of translating the SUSTAIN need into an Initial Capabilities Document (ICD). This need will heavily leverage on-going manned and unmanned Air Force, DARPA, and NASA initiatives and programs, with NASA’s manned programs being the key to fulfilling our objective capability. The USMC has also made an effort to make the SUSTAIN need a user-pull foundation piece of the National Aerospace Initiative. While the USMC does not expect to manage a space transport program in the future, our continuing expressions of need will help to steer and integrate the diverse technologies and demonstrations more rapidly and rationally, in the same spirit as Commandant Greene’s earlier proposals.


The SUSTAIN need relates directly to our Service Advocacy for the reinvigoration of NASA’s scientific space exploration activities. While the core missions of the Marine Corps and NASA differ fundamentally, the technology sets they will require to accomplish their respective missions share significant commonalities. To the extent that our technology and capability roadmaps overlap with those of NASA and other commercial space transport interests, there exists a tremendous potential developmental synergy that will mitigate the otherwise prohibitive expense of a solo-DoD technology/capability thrust. The Nation can likely only afford one such large, ambitious transformational and/or manned space program at a given time. But that one program can simultaneously serve many customers in commerce, science, and other governmental and civil applications. The key is the early expression of user pull on the technologies and capabilities, combined with their earliest coordination and synthesis. By these means NASA will oversee the development of a large percentage of the military requirements, ensuring successful transition and at relatively lower cost to the other customers. The key again is the earliest validation of the expressed needs.


In conclusion, the USMC is pleased with the recent changes to national security space that have provided us a greater voice in space-related warfighting technologies and capabilities, and we thank you for inviting us to participate in this forum. Considering our possible emerging space transportation and warfighting equities, it is important that we coordinate with a reinvigorated NASA as early as possible. Because our needs lean forward ahead of the technology acceleration curve, we desire a NASA that is both energized and unafraid of the space exploration-related science and technology challenges that lie ahead. Whether it is in conjunction with the Air Force Executive Agent for Space or an eventual Space Force or Space Service, the Marine Corps stands ready to work with NASA and others to meet the national security challenges of the 21st Century on land, at sea, in the air, and through space.

SpaceRef staff editor.