McCain, McCarthy Try to Limit ULA’s Access to Russian Rocket Engines

John McCain
John McCain

WASHINGTON, D.C. (John McCain PR) – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will be introducing legislation in the Senate and House, respectively, that would repeal a provision of the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that effectively allows the unlimited purchase and use of Russian rocket engines manufactured by a Russian company with close ties to the regime of Vladimir Putin for U.S. national security space launches.

The omnibus provision, which was airdropped into the bill by Senate appropriators in secret with no debate, undermines a measure in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (NDAA) that reasonably restricts the purchase of RD-180 rocket engines for military space launches by 2019, effectively rewarding Vladimir Putin and his cronies with a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It is morally outrageous and strategically foolish to ask American taxpayers to subsidize Russia’s military industrial base when Vladimir Putin occupies Crimea and destabilizes Ukraine, menaces our NATO allies in Europe, violates the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, sends weapons to Iran, and bombs U.S.-backed forces in Syria to prop-up the murderous regime of Bashar Assad,” said McCain. “This legislation is vital to ensuring the United States does not depend on Vladimir Putin’s regime for assured access to space.”

“Securing access to space is a national security priority and essential to leading in a 21st century economy,” said McCarthy. “The ever-expanding access to the final frontier is fueled by technology, research, and development. Our policies should facilitate a competitive environment that provides the incentive to scale each component required to access space. This was achieved in the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that was signed into law. But in a last minute maneuver, a provision was tucked into an unrelated spending bill that provides an indefinite lifeline to Russian rocket engines to power American space launches. Placing such a critical aspect of our future in the hands of a country that names the United States as a threat is not only foolish, it undermines the ingenuity happening across the country.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the use of Russian-made rocket engines for military space launches today.


Two years ago in response to Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine, Congress imposed tough sanctions against Russia, especially against Putin’s cronies and their corrupt, business empire. As part of that effort, Congress passed the FY15 NDAA, which restricted the Air Force from using Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines for national security space launches—engines that are manufactured by NPO Energomash, a Russian company that has been owned or controlled by some of Putin’s top cronies. An investigation by Reuters raised serious questions about the businesses and shell companies that facilitate the purchase of RD-180 Russian-made rocket engines, and exposed the role senior Russian politicians and close friends of Vladimir Putin play in the Energomash management.

Since the passage of the FY15 NDAA, Russia has continued to destabilize Ukraine, send advanced weapons to Iran, violate the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty, and intervene militarily in Syria on behalf of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. As a result, Congress acted again, passing the FY16 NDAA, which limited the use of RD-180 engines to a total of nine.

The FY16 NDAA, including its provision limiting the use of Russian rocket engines, was debated for months and passed the Senate not once, but twice. At no time did any senator come to the Senate floor to make the case for buying more Russian rocket engines. No senator introduced an amendment on the floor to lift the restriction on buying more Russian rocket engines. To the contrary, the Senate and the full Congress voted, overwhelmingly and repeatedly, to maintain this restriction. Yet, when the 2000-page omnibus appropriations bill was released shortly before consideration by Congress, buried within it was a policy provision that would effectively allow unlimited purchases and use of Russian rocket engines.

Senator McCain and Majority Leader McCarthy will offer legislation to repeal this provision, reaffirming the FY16 NDAA’s restriction on the use of Russian rocket engines for U.S. national security space launches.

Editor’s Note: While all this has been going on, Congress has been under funding NASA’s Commercial Crew program. That has delayed the program by years, resulting in the space agency paying hundreds of millions of dollars to Russia to send astronauts to the International Space Station at ever increasing per-seat rates. Talk about propping up Vladimir Putin.