Reporter, The Wall Street Journal.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 22. Atlas V rockets are equipped with RD-180 engines. PHOTO: REUTERS
Russian-built RD-180 engines power many U.S. military rockets
The Pentagon is ratcheting up warnings about budget and national-security risks that it contends would result from abruptly ending the use of Russian-built RD-180 engines that power many U.S. military rockets.
In the latest escalation of the long-running debate over the fate of such engines, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told a veteran Democratic lawmaker the Air Force doesn’t have the budget flexibility to cover the cost of rapidly replacing RD-180 engines with more-expensive domestic boosters.
The extra expense, projected to be between $1.5 billion and $5 billion over roughly six years, "would crowd out other important national-security investments” and may produce "the unintended consequence of delaying our ability to enable development of new domestic launch capabilities,” Mr. Work told Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida in a recent letter.
Other documents provided to Sen. Nelson emphasized that unless an adequate supply of RD-180 engines remains available to the United Launch Alliance, the and joint venture that is the Pentagon’s biggest rocket provider, launches of some critical Pentagon satellites could be delayed by more than two years.
It also could prevent the ULA’s Atlas V rockets, equipped with RD-180 engines, from competing for launches by NASA or for commercial launches, the documents say. Under this scenario, "it is unclear whether” the ULA "would have sufficient funds available to continue to invest in” a next-generation domestic launch vehicle, according to the documents.
The documents raise questions about whether ULA would have funds necessary "even to stay in business.”
Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican leading the battle to quickly cut off use of RD-180 engines, has recently argued that the Treasury Department is pursuing "selective enforcement of sanctions” by failing to aggressively pursue some Russian companies and businessmen with ties to the production or marketing of those engines.
Both sides are expected to roll out additional arguments as the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Sen. McCain chairs, takes up the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill in the coming days.