Durbin hits back in feud over Russian rocket engines

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is pushing back on criticism from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over Russian rocket engines.

McCain wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal this week blasting Durbin and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) for inserting a provision in the 2016 spending bill that allows the United States to keep buying rocket engines from Russia.

McCain argued the move would support Russian President Vladimir Putin despite his aggressive moves in Ukraine.

Durbin accused McCain of stretching the truth in his own letter to the editor for the Journal Thursday.

“I am co-chairman of the Ukrainian Caucus in the Senate, and my long-held feelings about President Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion of that sovereign nation are well established,” Durbin wrote. “Having been personally invited by Sen. McCain to accompany him to Ukraine, he knows his suggestion that he is the only one truly willing to confront Mr. Putin is shameless.”

The spending bill reversed a provision championed by McCain in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that limited buys of the Russian engine, called RD-180, to nine in an effort to cover rocket launches until U.S. companies could produce an American-made engine.

Durbin and Shelby, who sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, did so to benefit their home states, McCain added.

ULA, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has a rocket plant in Alabama, and Boeing is based in Illinois.

Durbin argued that he also included an appropriation of $228 million to fund a competition to build an American-made rocket to replace the Russian engine. That’s up from the previous year’s $220 million and more than in the defense authorization act, Durbin said.

McCain separatley said ULA should use its Delta IV rocket, which uses American-made engines.

But Durbin argued that would cost billions of dollars more than the Air Force’s current plan.

The Air Force has recommended keeping a stockpile of 18 of the Russian-made rocket engines until a comparable American-made engine can be tested and fielded, which industry and defense officials estimate could be somewhere between 2019 to 2021.

“Sen. McCain also fails to mention that his plan to use a different rocket, the Delta IV, would likely cost taxpayers in excess of a billion dollars more than the plan put forward by the Air Force,” he wrote. “The Arizona senator who styles himself a budget hawk is proposing a $1 billion gift at taxpayer expense to the Delta IV defense contractor.”

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