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US Civil Reserve Air Fleet could be model for rocket cargo carriers

Military officials see voluntary program as way to charter rockets for cargo deliveries around the world

(Correction: Space companies potentially could provide cargo services to the U.S. military in a voluntary partnership similar to how air cargo operators provide peacetime airlift. An earlier version of the story incorrectly suggested rocket operators could join CRAF.)

The U.S. military’s top transportation commander said he envisions contracting for terrestrial cargo service delivered by rocket ships along the lines of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program that funnels business to carriers providing standby airlift during times of national emergency.

“We are thinking about this in a very similar model to CRAF, where you have a commercial partner that presents capability to the Department of Defense,” U.S. Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, said during a virtual address to the Airlift/Tanker Association conference last week.

There are 25 carriers and 423 aircraft enrolled in the voluntary program, according to the latest data from Air Mobility Command. 

Under CRAF, airlines contractually commit to supplement military air transport of troops and equipment during wartime or other emergencies. To encourage carriers to participate, only CRAF partners can bid on government airlift contracts issued through the Defense Department during peacetime.

Under agreements with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Exploration Architecture Corp., USTRANSCOM is studying the potential use of rockets to deliver large cargo loads around the world in less than an hour. 

The partners plan to conduct a proof-of-concept trial next year to evaluate the capabilities, limitations and technical/policy gaps associated with point-to-point, space-based delivery, according to USTRANSCOM.

Other next steps in developing commercial space logistics include developing a use doctrine, obtaining diplomatic approvals for operating in other countries, establishing legal standards and organizing personnel to manage high-frequency space launches.

“Forward thinking like this enhances the options of dynamic force employment. It also places global logistics at the tip of the spear and will provide commanders new options,” stated U.S. Air Force Col. Max Bremer, an official at North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Space Command. “The use of space for military logistics could be the biggest game changer since the development of cargo aircraft.”

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at