Durbin Urges Responsible Transition to American-Made Rocket Engines for National Security Satellite Launches

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, today pressed the case for responsibly transitioning from Russian-made rocket engines to American-made engines for national defense satellite launches. Despite concerns from senior military and intelligence officials, a proposal is emerging in the Senate Armed Services Committee to cut off American military purchasing of the RD-180 engines used to launch satellites that directly support U.S. troops serving in harm’s way, and adopt a sole-source plan that would cost taxpayers billions of dollars more.


Durbin spoke at a Subcommittee hearing on Defense Department innovation and research with Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Stephen Welby, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.


There is a belief in the authorizing committee that we should stop cold—not buy any more of these Russian engines,” said Durbin. “If we don’t use Russian engines in transition, while we’re building this American engine, we are forced to use Delta engines through the United Launch Alliance and that, we estimate, will cost as Mr. Kendall said, between a billion and two billion dollars more. What does two billions dollars mean? We could replace every Humvee in the Marine Corps. Increase pay raises for our troops by 2.1% for the next five years with the difference that we’d pay for the Delta. Keep the A-10 flying for five more years. Double the funding for National Guard equipment. Buy ten to twenty space launches under full and open competition. I don't want to continue to subscribing to this Russian engine any more than we have to, but I think it's short sighted for us to cut it off cold turkey."


Watch Durbin’s remarks in the hearing HERE.


In May of 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense saying, "We can't afford to have a gap, because we need to be able to launch national security satellites." Secretary Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper followed that testimony with a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee to emphasize that point.


Additionally, the Subcommittee held a hearing in March 2014 about the need for competition -- before SpaceX was certified to compete for defense contracts. Then-Chairman Durbin made it his first hearing that year because he was concerned about the increasing price of sole-source space launch, and because he wanted to introduce competition into the system.