Russian Engine on Rocket Needs U.S. Review, Hagel Says

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today told a House defense panel that Russia’s actions in Ukraine will lead the Pentagon to reassess the use of Russian-made engines on Atlas V rockets.

“This is going to engage us in a review of that,” Hagel told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee today. “No question about that.”

United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., uses Russian-made engines on Atlas V rockets the Pentagon depends on to launch military satellites. Tensions over Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea region has sparked questions about that supply connection.

The Pentagon leases launch services from United Launch Alliance, including the rocket. Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed used the Russian-made RD 180 engine for years on its Atlas V rocket before joining Chicago-based Boeing in the alliance.

Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., a company that’s trying to break into the military launch market, said at a congressional hearing on March 5 that launches may be at risk because of Boeing’s and Lockheed’s dependence on the Russian engine.

Musk, who also is chairman and chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc., said the Atlas V rockets should be phased out for the “long-term security interest of the country.”

United Launch Alliance has an engine supply of more than two years in the U.S., Michael Gass, president and chief operating officer of the company, said at the same hearing.

“We bought all the blueprints and specifications, brought them into the country,” and demonstrated “that we can take the blueprints and specifications” and replicate the engines if needed, Gass said.

“We invested hundreds of millions of dollars to prove that we have the capability to demonstrate our ability to build that exact engine.”

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