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House Approves RD-180 Replacement Appropriation As U.S. Readies More Russia Sanctions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Jun-2014
Updated: 20-Jun-2014 04:31 PM

The House passed the FY2015 defense appropriations bill today (June 20) with the $220 million added to begin building a replacement for Russia's RD-180 rocket engines intact.  Also today, the Obama Administration imposed sanctions against seven Ukrainians and, along with Europe, is readying other sanctions aimed at specific Russian economic sectors including defense.

The availability of RD-180 engines for the United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket has come into question since the deterioration of relationships with Russia because of its actions in Ukraine.  The House now has passed both a FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4435) and a companion FY2015 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 4870) that provide $220 million for the Air Force to begin a program to develop a U.S. liquid rocket engine to replace the RD-180.  The White House disapproves of the additional funding, arguing that it is premature to commit that much money while options on how best to obtain a new U.S. engine are still being evaluated, but there seems to be agreement that a new U.S engine is needed to end America's reliance on Russia.   The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) also wants a U.S.-built engine and recommended $100 million in its version of the FY2015 NDAA (S. 2410).  SASC also adopted a McCain amendment that prohibits the purchase of additional RD-180 engines after the current contract expires.

U.S. national space policy requires that the government support two families of launch vehicles to ensure access to space, especially for national security satellites, in case one experiences a long hiatus because of a failure.  The Atlas V is one of the two (Delta IV is the other).  NASA and NOAA also use Atlas V and two of the three competitors for NASA's commercial crew program (Boeing and Sierra Nevada) plan to launch their spacecraft using the Atlas V.

ULA insists that it is "business as usual" with Energomash, the Russian company that manufactures the RD-180s.  The question is whether the evolving situation in Ukraine and potential sanctions against Russia's defense sector could disrupt that relationship.   ULA President Michael Gass said on Wednesday that the company is positioning itself to be able to respond to any eventuality.

Major media outlets including the New York Times report that a "senior administration official" briefed them today that the United States and Europe are readying tougher sanctions targeted against Russia's finance, energy and defense sectors because of continued Russian involvement in Ukraine.   According to the reports, the administration is accusing Russia of covertly arming Ukrainian separatists and redeploying "significant' Russian troops along the Ukrainian border despite a cease-fire declared by Ukraine today and ongoing negotiations between Moscow and Kiev on a peace plan.  The U.S. Treasury Department today imposed sanctions against seven Ukrainians who are viewed as separatist leaders.

Details of the potential sanctions against Russia's economic sectors have not been made public.   President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Russian President Putin earlier this month that he risked tougher sanctions if Russia did not withdraw Russian troops from the Ukrainian border and end its support for Ukrainian separatists.  Although Russia initially withdrew some of it troops, they reportedly now are redeploying.


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