The Pentagon has no “great solution” to reduce its dependence on a Russian-made engine that powers the rocket used to launch U.S. military satellites, the Defense Department’s top weapons buyer said.
“We don’t have a great solution,” Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, said yesterday after testifying before a Senate committee. “We haven’t made any decisions yet.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the Air Force to review its reliance on the rocket engine after tensions over Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region prompted questions from lawmakers about that long-time supply connection. United Launch Alliance LLC, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., uses the Russian-made RD-180 engine on Atlas V rockets.
Among the options the Air Force is outlining for Hagel are building versions in the U.S. under an existing license from the Russian maker or depending only on Delta-class rockets that use another engine, Kendall said. The U.S. also could accelerate the certification of new companies to launch satellites that don’t use the Russian engine, he said.
Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., a Hawthorne, California-based company that’s trying to break into the military launch market, said at a March 5 congressional hearing that launches may be at risk because of dependence on the Russian engine.
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