Apr 28 2016

Shelby Questions Defense Secretary Carter on Use of the RD-180 Engine for National Security Launches

WASHINGTON, DC – Wednesday, April 27, 2016 – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, today questioned Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the use of the RD-180 for critical national security launches during a hearing on President Obama's Fiscal Year 2017 budget request for the Defense Department. 

“I am a strong advocate for the development of an all-American rocket engine that can launch our national security assets into orbit,” said Senator Shelby following the hearing.  “However, time and time again, our military leaders emphasize the need for the United States to have the ability to purchase additional RD-180s to safeguard assured access to space and protect American taxpayers while we transition off of foreign-made engines.  I was pleased to hear Secretary Carter address this important issue today, and I will continue to assert that Congress should provide the policy guidance and legal flexibility that our military leaders say they need in order to launch critical national security missions.  While we all agree that the U.S. should reduce its dependence on Russia as soon as possible, it should not come at the expense of keeping Americans safe.”

A partial unofficial transcript of today’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing is as follows:


The RD-180 engines, we've talked about this. We've worked with you before on that, some of us have here. And, how important is it for us to build the American engine? Which we all want to do, you know, down the road. Not to rely on anybody except ourselves.

And how important is it that we have those engines, a number of them, for a few years that we do this for our national security? 


Well, our budget does propose that we continue to buy RD-180s for a time and I'll explain why. Down the road, we want to have two or more competitive launch service providers that are purely American. That's where we'd like to get to.

In the meantime, we have to launch our national security pay loads. And where -- there's two ways we can do that.

We can hold our noses, buy RD-180s until that situation is created. Or -- and fly Atlases with RD-180s. The alternative is to fly our payloads on Delta, which is technically feasible, but much more expensive. And so, that's the choice. And we have chosen the choice of going Atlas, recognizing the distasteful fact that that necessitates purchases of up to 18 more RD-180 engines.

The alternative being Delta, but the alternative being much more expensive. It's that simple.