Pentagon Says it Needs 18 More RD-180s

Before the Senate begins to debate amendments to the defense authorization bill this week, the Pentagon was making the case it should be able to buy more Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines. In a May 23 letter to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, said 18, rather than the nine allowed for in the Fiscal 2015 and 2016 authorization bills, should be authorized. The amount would enable competition through 2022, he said. “The cost impacts and disruption to launch schedules would be significant” if there was a loss of access to the engines that power the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rockets used for National Security Space Launches, he wrote. Work noted the Delta IV launch vehicle and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 would need to be used instead, but the Pentagon estimates using the Delta IV launch vehicle more frequently would raise costs between $1.5 billion and $5 billion. The House’s version of the Fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act would allow the Pentagon to buy up to 18. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has repeatedly railed against the continued use of the RD-180s. In May, he called continued purchases a symptom of the “military industrial congressional complex.” (See also: Panel Warns RD-180 Plan Too Risky.)