Project ORION – The Rise of the Spartans

This month for the continuation of the Halo series, I decided to focus on the SPARTANS and their origins as a unit.  Starting out in the early years of the United Earth Government (UEG), Project ORION is where it all began.



Project ORION was launched in the early years of the 23rd century shortly after the unification of the Earth into the UEG and the formation of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC). The project was started in an attempt to biochemically alter soldiers to create super soldiers for use in the field. While ORION would eventually be shut down, the concept was taken and utilized as the basis for future SPARTAN programs and certain advancements were used for field kits following the Insurrectionist Civil War.

In 2390, the UEG had formally established the Inner Colonies of the Earth Empire. For the next hundred years, humanity began to expand into the Sol system establishing dozens of colonies on habitable worlds. As the expansion continued, the power and influence of the UEG began the wane to the point that political independence was the hot topic among the colonists. Colonies began to separate themselves from UEG control and the UNSC took steps to maintain a grip on the Outer colonies that were trying to secede from the UEG. In preparation for conflict, the UNSC enacted Project: ORION on April 13, 2321, as a means of developing tougher, faster and stronger soldiers. Of the original 5 candidates selected, none were deemed a success and the candidates were returned to their respective units. Each of these candidates would die within a year of being returned to their unit for reasons  undisclosed by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI).


As the Civil Wars on the Outer colonies intensified, Project: ORION was relaunched in secret on January 29, 2491, to combat insurgent attacks. The project was opened with 65 candidates, with a future 100 volunteers being accepted following initial training. On January 12, 2496, the first ORION soldiers were deployed as part of Operation: CHARLEMAGNE to recover a sub-orbital transit station over Eridanus II. The mission was successful without any casualties and without detection, this was also the only time in the program’s history that a full unit of its operators would ever be deployed.

With the success of Operation: CHARLEMAGNE, the tales of super soldiers being deployed by the UNSC spread like wildfire, causing conspiracy theories to be born. ONI used the leaked knowledge in a very aggressive propaganda run in the following decades to incite compliance from the outer colonies. During the same year as Operation: CHARLEMAGNE, ORION operatives were deployed as part of Operation: VERITAS, where they apprehended several Secessionist Union operatives who were employed in various high-level offices in the Colonial Military Administration (CMA).

As the Insurrectionist War began to heat up, the UNSC escalated their counter-insurgent activities with Operation: TREBUCHET. This operation was put into immediate action following the defection of UNSC Marine Colonel Robert Watts. ORION operatives were deployed to combat the insurgent threat and were very effective for a time. As the conflict dragged on, the insurgents became harder and harder to root out. The Insurgents adapted to the tactics of the ORION operatives very quickly and became increasingly harder to combat. While the bombings and flashpoint scenarios between Insurrectionists and the UNSC continued to increase, more civilians were caught in the crossfire, and were killed as a result. These civilian deaths added to the growing resentment for the UNSC on the outer colonies forcing more to join the Insurrectionist fight. In response to the growing Insurrectionist threat, the UNSC recruited more operatives into the ORION program, culminating in 300 active duty personnel.

As Operation: TREBUCHET continued, some of the older members of ORION began to exhibit PTSD and sympathy towards the Insurrectionists. Some operatives refused to participate in the program post-augmentation and were incarcerated as a result. Despite the success the ORION soldiers were having, the results were far below what the scientists expected. Due to the age of most candidates and the inadequate genetic screening performed during recruitment.; the genetic modifications led to minimal improvement and the immunosuppressants failed in many candidates. These issues led to irreversible genetic fragmentation and degenerative conditions in most of the ORION personnel.

In 2502, Operation: KALEIDOSCOPE was put in to action. KALEIDOSCOPE was a multi pronged approach by the UNSC to pacify the Insurrectionist threat. ORION operatives were deployed to neutralize key insurgent strongholds and eliminate insurgent personnel. The main goal was to eliminate Jerald Mulkey Ander, the leader of the Secessionist Union.


On March 13, 2502, Jerald Ander was assassinated by ORION operative, Corporal Avery Johnson. With Ander’s death, the Secessionist Union was easily dismantled; however, it did not deter those from seeking independent control from the UEG, it actually served to strengthen the Insurrectionist movement on several planets. While KALEIDOSCOPE dealt a massive blow to the insurgents, it failed to pacify the planets as had been originally intended and was declared a failure as the result. As Operation: KALEIDOSCOPE was wrapping up, it became apparent that some of the ORION operatives were beginning to develop severe side effects from the augmentations. These side effects ranged from physical anomalies to mental illness.

The ORION project began to decline in performance due to the ineffective strategies used by the UNSC. Operation: TANGLEWOOD was the final operation that ORION operatives participated in.

In 2506, project ORION was quietly terminated with the remaining 165 members being reassigned to various special forces elements in the UNSC. Some of the former ORION operatives began to exhibit mental instabilities and were discharged from the UNSC as a result. ONI concocted a plan to cover up the ailments being exhibited by the former ORION members as a medical ailment called Boren’s Syndrome. As many of the ORION soldiers began to retire and have families, the children of the former operatives required specially formulated injections to ensure they suffered no health defects. While some ORION members were discharged, others like Avery Johnson, were able to serve well past what is normally expected of human service. Johnson served for a continued four decades after the project was shut down.

*Johnson was dosed with an abnormally high amount of radiation emanating from a crate of plasma grenades on Paris IV; as a result, he was immune to Flood infection.*


Following the shuttering of Project ORION many of the augmentations and advancements were incorporated into the SPARTAN-II program and its successors. The failures of project ORION were blamed on the age of the recruits. Being adults, the recruits bodies rejected many of the augmentations, giving a less than expected result. The SPARTAN-II and SPARTAN-III programs were therefore forced to use prepubescent recruits so that their genetic information and physicality would allow for the augmentations to take hold. The SPARTAN-IV program overcame this obstacle, but that was not until after the end of the Human-Covenant War on March 3, 2553.

Due to the combat effectiveness of the ORION operatives the UNSC utilized project ORION and its operators as the model for a reorganization of the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs).

In the years following the closure of Project: ORION in 2506, the small amount of special forces in the UNSC were not able to effectively combat the rising Insurrectionist threat. Around 2510, ONI began to re-examine the Carver Findings (A set of theories published by Dr. Elias Carver in 2491, predicting the outbreak of an insurrection) to determine if there was a solution within Carver’s predictions to their current Insurrectionist issue. The findings stated that the instability would continue to grow unless drastic military action was taken. ONI had conducted it’s own research and came to the same conclusion as Dr. Carver; if the threat was not subdued, by 2525 there would be an open war between the inner and outer colonies.

Dr. Catherine Halsey had taken Carver’s findings and built on them herself. Halsey’s findings predicted that if UNSC inaction against rebel leadership continued, there would be a 35 year war with over 5 billion dead or a conflict of indeterminate length that would lead to the downfall of human civilization.  Halsey presented her findings to Vice Admiral Stanforth and ONI Section III, who had come to their own similar conclusions. In order to avoid this grim future, Halsey agreed to work for ONI under Section III’s Special Projects Division to develop a solution.


Dr. Halsey took the data from the initial Project ORION and made drastic changes. The candidates would be selected based on age, and genetic markers that would increase the success of the augmentations. The candidates would have to exhibit physical strength and mental attributes as well as being under the age of 10. The age limit also helped with instilling core military values and the understanding of War; which could not be taught to already enlisted individuals. In addition to the more selective candidate pool, one of the other major changes involved the creation of powered exoskeletons for use by the operatives. The drawback of this new armor is its requirement for augmenting the subject, effectively turning the participants into human guinea pigs. Despite the obvious danger to recruits and the unethical means to which they would be treated, ORION-II was permitted.

In 2511, Generation II of Project ORION was initiated to combat the Insurrectionist threat.  By 2517, 150 suitable candidates had been selected for the program, though funding only allowed for half that number. Thus the top 75 candidates were selected from all planets across UNSC controlled space. The selection pool included both male and female candidates as well as various ethnic backgrounds to ensure diversity. The candidates all were around the age of six years old and most lived on the outer planets. ONI operatives kidnapped the candidates in the night and replaced them with flash clones. These flash clones were grown from the DNA acquired by the Outer Colony Vaccination Program. The clones would die after roughly a year due to medical complications resulting from flash cloning an entire human being.

Halsey was not fond of the original name for the project, Project ORION Generation II, so she renamed the project out of personal preference and desire to distance it from the failures of the first Project: ORION. Halsey centered on the SPARTAN-II program as a homage to the name of ORION.

With the subsequent success of the SPARTAN-II program, Project ORION was retroactively renamed as SPARTAN-I.



There you have it, the story of how the SPARTAN program came to be. While the most popular iteration of the SPARTAN program is the SPARTAN-IIs and the face of Halo, the Master Chief; none of that would be possible without Project: ORION. Next month I will breakdown the SPARTAN-II program along with its various victories and defeats. See you next week!


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