WASHINGTON, June 13 The U.S. Defense Department
wants to end its dependency on Russian engines to power rockets
that launch national security satellites, but is still exploring
possible options, a top Pentagon official said on Friday.
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, said the
Pentagon had taken some initial steps to reduce the risks linked
with use of the Russian engines, but had not made any final
decisions about how to proceed.
"We are motivated, if we can do it, to remove the dependency
that we have. We would ... like to do that," he said. "We
haven't figured out exactly how to get there yet."
Several U.S. congressional committees have added funding to
the fiscal 2015 military budget to start work on a new U.S.
rocket engine and eliminate reliance on the Russian-made RD-180
engines used the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of
Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.
ULA uses the Russian-made engines in one type of rocket, the
Atlas, but not in another, the Delta. The company has enough
engines on hand to last for two years, officials have said.
Concerns about U.S. reliance on the Russian engines were
sparked when a high-ranking Moscow official recently threatened
to end sales of the rocket engines for U.S. military use in
response to sanctions imposed by the West after Russia's
annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
Aerojet Rocketdyne, a unit of GenCorp, has said it is
potentially interested in bidding for the work.
Experts estimate it would cost around $1 billion and five
years to develop a new U.S.-built rocket engine.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, editing by G Crosse)