McCain blasts ULA’s Russian rocket engines
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