McCain blasts ULA’s Rus­sian rocket en­gines

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Richard Lardner TheWash­ing­ton Post con­trib­uted to this re­port.

wash­ing­ton » Sen. John McCain as­sailed Pen­tagon of­fi­cials againWed­nes­day for re­ly­ing on Rus­sian rocket en­gines ac­quired by Cen­ten­ni­al­based United Launch Al­liance to send Amer­i­can mil­i­tary satel­lites into space.

“To­day Rus­sia holds many of our most pre­cious na­tional se­cu­rity satel­lites at risk be­fore they ever get off the ground,” said McCain, RAriz., chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, at a hear­ing to ex­am­ine mil­i­tary space launch ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

McCain said the Pen­tagon has sought to un­der­mine the com­mit­tee’s di­rec­tion to limit that risk and end the use of the Rus­sian RD- 180 en­gines by the end of this decade.

He blamed ULA, the joint ven­ture of Lock­heed Martin and Boe­ing, and two sen­a­tors who sup­port the com­pany, Richard Shelby, R- Ala., and Dick Durbin, D- Ill., for thwart­ing the com­mit­tee’s in­struc­tions.

McCain and House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif., are in­tro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion Thurs­day to re­peal a pro­vi­sion in a lawthat they say al­lows the un­lim­ited ac­qui­si­tion and use of RD- 180 en­gines, which are man­u­fac­tured by NPO En­er­go­mash.

United Launch Al­liance uses the RD- 180s on its At­las V launch ve­hi­cle. The en­gines’ man­u­fac­turer is owned pri­mar­ily by the Rus­sian govern­ment and con­trolled by sev­eral of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s con­fi­dants, ac­cord­ing to the law­mak­ers.

The RD- 180 pur­chases ef­fec­tively re­ward the in­ner cir­cle of Putin even as Wash­ing­ton con­demns Rus­sia’s in­va­sion of Ukraine’s Crimea re­gion, its sup­port for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and other hos­tile ac­tions, the law­mak­ers said.

At the com­mit­tee hear­ing, Frank Ken­dall, the Pen­tagon’s top weapons buyer, said ULA has been a re­li­able part­ner with a long string of suc­cess­ful launches. And he said re­strict­ing the com­pany’s use of the en­gine would make it “ques­tion­able whether ULA could sur­vive.”

ULA spokes­woman Jes­sica Rye said the com­pany had no com­ment.

Pro­po­nents of us­ing the RD- 180s to launch a range of na­tional se­cu­rity satel­lites said theRus­sian en­gines fill a cru­cial gap while the U. S. de­vel­ops and tests a do­mes­ti­cally made rocket.

Bar­ring the pur­chase of the Rus­sian en­gines could de­lay im­por­tant mis­sions dur­ing that tran­si­tion pe­riod, they said, while also un­der­cut­ting the com­pe­ti­tion among Amer­i­can com­pa­nies es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing costs stay un­der con­trol.

Air Force Sec­re­tary Deborah James told the com­mit­tee the depart­ment is­work­ing to end the use of the Rus­sian en­gines as soon as pos­si­ble. She said dis­en­gag­ing fromthe use of theRus­sian en­gines is far more com­pli­cated than it ap­pears. She rec­om­mended a stock­pile of 18 of the RD180s un­til an Amer­i­can- made rocket can be tested and fielded.

Durbin said the ex­clu­sion of Rus­sian en­gines would pre­ven­tUnited Launch Al­liance from­bid­ding on mil­i­tary work, leav­ing the com­pany SpaceXas the “mo­nop­oly source for the en­gines.”

Sen. JohnMcCain, R- Ariz., left, talks with Sen. Jack Reed, D- R. I., be­fore a hear­ing re­gard­ing Rus­sian- made rocket en­gi­nesWed­nes­day in­Wash­ing­ton. Su­san Walsh, The As­so­ci­ated Press

A United Launch Al­liance At­las V rocket lifts off in July 2013 fromCape Canaveral, Fla. Den­ver Post file

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