McCain Calls For Freeze on ULA Payments

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is calling for a freeze on launch subsidy payments to the United Launch Alliance, in part because he does not believe the explanations the Lockheed Martin and Boeing consortium gave for not competing in the first competitive national security space launch. In a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, McCain asked the Pentagon to audit ULA’s business systems and provide the results to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which he chairs. According to McCain, ULA said it does not have any Atlas rockets available for the bid, because of sanctions in the National Defense Authorization Act against the use of Russian-made RD-180 engines, which power the Atlas. However, McCain said ULA had five engines that are not limited by the sanctions already in hand, but “rushed to assign them to non-national security launches,” which are not restricted by sanctions, in a bid to force Congress to allow ULA to buy more Russian-made engines. “I feel strongly that these tactics are inappropriate and intended to support an effort in the Congress to subvert the authorization process,” McCain wrote. He asked Carter to determine when ULA began assigning rockets to specific launches, and when it assigned the remaining Atlas rockets to non-national security launches. ULA had no comment on the letter or the assertions; a Defense Department spokesman said they have received the letter and will “respond promptly and directly to him.” (See also: Encouraging Competition in Space.)