Feb 22 2016

Wall Street Journal Letter to the Editor: Dump Russian Rockets When We Are Ready

Regarding Sen. John McCain’s “Congress’s Cynical Crony-Capital Gift to Putin” (op-ed, Feb. 8): Congress is debating whether a company using the Russian made RD-180 rocket engine should be allowed to compete for U.S. Air Force launches before a reliable American alternative is available. Importantly, these launches send intelligence satellites into space that support our troops abroad.

After the invasion of Crimea, we all agree that the U.S. must cease dependence on Russia. However, if we do so hastily, the result could leave our military in a dangerous predicament.

Sen. McCain’s proposal would effectively ground the reliable rockets that launch vital national security payloads by only allowing an additional four RD-180s to be used. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James recently warned against this approach saying, “We think having access to a total of about 18 RD-180s is reasonable and prudent to maintain competition over these next few years.”

If Sen. McCain is genuine in his concerns about the U.S. enriching Vladimir Putin, why not seek to ban other items imported from Russia like the $151 million in arms and ammunition, the more than $20 billion in oil and petroleum products and even the $326 million of crustaceans? It’s clear that targeting rocket engines, which amount to less than $100 million annually, is actually about squelching competition in the military launch sector.

Sen. McCain’s interest in this issue stems from his desire to eliminate competition for his friend Elon Musk of SpaceX, which has experienced numerous delays and even a catastrophic failure. Sen. McCain’s proposal would give SpaceX a virtual monopoly on national security missions even though the company has never launched one. His proposal also serves to eliminate United Launch Alliance, which marked its 105th consecutive successful mission last week, from future competition for military launches.

During these uncertain and dangerous times, assured access to space is critical. It is past time for policy makers to have an honest debate about this issue instead of slinging around inaccurate allegations.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.)