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The giant omnibus budget bill negotiated and announced by Congress today includes language that effectively lifts the limit on the number of Russian engines that ULA can use in its Atlas 5 rocket.
John McCain (R-Arizona) is very unhappy about this, and is threatening to ban the use of any Russian engines on any further Atlas 5 in future bills.
On the record, I make this promise. If this language undermining the National Defense Authorization Act is not removed from the Omnibus, I assure my colleagues that this issue will not go unaddressed in the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Up to this point, we have sought to manage this issue on an annual basis, and we have always maintained that, if a genuine crisis emerged, we would not compromise our national security interests in space. We have sought to be flexible and open to new information, but if this is how our efforts are repaid, then perhaps we need to look at a complete and indefinite restriction on Putin’s rocket engines.
Whether McCain will be able to do this however is somewhat questionable. He is up for election next year, is very disliked in Arizona, and is likely going to face a very tough primary battle that he very well might lose. Even so, it really won’t do ULA much good if they get the right to keep using Russian engines. As I said earlier today, ULA’s future as a rocket company is extremely limited if it doesn’t develop a cheaper rocket. Continued use of the Atlas 5 and these Russian engines does nothing to get that cheaper rocket built.