| WASHINGTON, April 30
WASHINGTON, April 30 Lawmakers called for a
program to develop a next-generation liquid-fuel rocket engine
within five years, proposing legislation aimed at reducing U.S.
dependence on Russian engines to launch military and spy
The measure, proposed on Wednesday amid U.S. concerns over
Russia's actions in Ukraine, authorizes Defense Secretary Chuck
Hagel to spend $220 million to begin developing a liquid rocket
engine that would be made available to all U.S. space launch
The legislative proposal, which would be included in the
House of Representatives' 2014 annual defense policy bill,
directs Hagel to develop a rocket engine that "enables the
effective, efficient and expedient transition from the use of
non-allied space launch engines to a domestic alternative."
The draft proposal for the National Defense Authorization
Act calls for a "full and open competition" to develop an engine
made in the United States that meets the needs of the national
security community and is available no later than 2019.
United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin
and Boeing, currently uses the RD 180 rocket
engine made by Russia's NPO Energomash to launch Atlas V rockets
carrying U.S. military and spy satellites.
Air Force officials have assured lawmakers their
long-standing relationship with the Russian firm has not been
affected by the current crisis in Ukraine, in which Moscow's
forces seized control of the Crimean peninsula.
Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning told lawmakers last
month the United States has enough rocket engines to support
launches well into 2016.
U.S. reliance on Russian engines has been a long-time
concern for lawmakers, but those worries have been heightened by
Russian actions Washington believes are destabilizing Ukraine.
Senators also raised concerns about U.S. dependence on
Russian rocket engines at a hearing Wednesday and said they
would press for work on an alternate engine.
Chief Pentagon arms buyer Frank Kendall told the Senate
Armed Services Committee the United States has a license to
build the Russian engines itself and could do that if necessary.
But he said it would require some technical work first and that
the license only goes through about 2022.
"I've never been entirely comfortable with that dependency,"
Kendall said. "And we have looked at it in the budget process
options a couple of times to try to do something about that, but
it just hasn't been affordable and we've accepted the risk."
"That risk seems to be becoming much more real," he added.
Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh has said it would cost
about $1 billion and take about five years for Pratt & Whitney,
a unit of United Technologies Corp, to start
co-producing the Russian rocket engine.
Some sources familiar with the issue said the cost would be
closer to $700 million and take three to four years.
Lawmakers also have been concerned about the lack of
competition among firms that carry out launches.
The Air Force awarded a multibillion-dollar, non-compete
contract for 36 launches to United Launch Alliance earlier this
year, prompting privately held Space Exploration Technologies,
known as SpaceX, to file a lawsuit on April 25.
Elon Musk, the company's chief executive, said the contract
blocks companies like SpaceX, whose costs he said are far lower
than those of ULA, from competing for national security
SpaceX says its rockets are American made.
Senator John McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, told the panel U.S. dependence on Russian President
Vladimir Putin for rocket motors was a reason "we should be
looking desperately for competition" in space launches.
(Reporting by David Alexander; additional reporting by Andrea
Shalal; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)