COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. May 22 The U.S. Senate
Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved a plan that would
add $100 million to the U.S. military budget to start work on a
new U.S. rocket engine and eliminate reliance on a Russian-made
engine used to lift big government satellites into orbit.
The House Armed Services Committee included a similar
provision in its defense authorization bill earlier this month.
Tensions with Russia have sparked growing concerns about the
use of Russian-made RD-180 engines by the United Launch
Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed
Martin Corp that is responsible for launching U.S.
military and spy satellites into space.
ULA uses the Russian-made engines in one type of rocket, the
Atlas, but not in another, the Delta.
A high-ranking Russian official recently threatened to end
sales of the Russian rocket engines for U.S. military use in
response to western sanctions imposed after Russia's annexation
of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, introduced the
measure to increase funding as an amendment to the fiscal 2015
defense authorization bill, arguing that it was important to
ensure U.S. access to space for its astronauts and military
Aerojet Rocketdyne, a unit of GenCorp, has said it is
potentially interested in bidding for the work.
Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning this week told a space
conference in Colorado that the Air Force was exploring its
options given the fragility of relations with Russia amid
tensions over its annexation of Crimea.
Fanning said the Air Force was looking at longer-term
options, including building an alternative engine, either on its
own or through a public-private partnership. He said the Air
Force was also working to certifying other rocket launch
providers and could increase use of ULA's Delta rockets.
Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp
and the former owner of Rocketdyne, has a license to
co-produce the Russian rocket, but U.S. officials have said that
co-production would still leave the U.S. government dependent on
Russia to some extent.
Experts estimate it would cost around $1 billion and five
years to develop a new U.S. rocket engine.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)