Senators look to allow Russian rocket engines

Senators look to allow Russian rocket engines
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A bipartisan group of senators is hoping to give the Air Force more flexibility to use Russian-made rocket engines for its national security space launches.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (D-Fla.) filed an amendment to an annual defense policy bill that would allow all launch providers to compete for contracts, regardless of country of origin.

The provision would end after 2022, which Nelson said would give the Air Force enough time to wean itself off the Russian engines.

“Banning the use of these engines too soon would not only cost taxpayers billions of dollars, it would put our national security at risk and unnecessarily hamper our ability to launch satellites into space,” Nelson said in a statement.

The amendment is co-sponsored by Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott Gardner The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's hurricane forecast controversy won't go away MORE (R-Colo.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House panel approves impeachment powers Burden in tonight's debate is on Democratic realists 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the September Democratic debate MORE (D-Colo.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump defends push to ban flavored e-cigarettes: Let's 'keep young children from Vaping!' Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (D-Ill.)

The Air Force relies on United Launch Alliance (ULA) — a Lockheed and Boeing joint venture — for its sensitive national security space launches. United Launch Alliance uses a launch vehicle reliant on the Russian engines, known as RD-180s.

As written now, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would only allow the Air Force nine RD-180s.

Banning the engines has been a focus of Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Biden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain argues that continuing to buy the engines enriches the coffers of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies.

But the Air Force and ULA supporters have argued ending reliance on the engines before a viable American-made alternative is available would be costly and could endanger national security by cutting off assured access to space.

The Air Force has requested authority to buy 18 engines, which the House version of the NDAA would allow.

The proposed amendment to the Senate NDAA would go further by saying there’s no limitations on the engines until after 2022.

“The DoD must have access to launch vehicles that it can afford,” Gardner said in a statement. “My amendment promotes competition and acknowledges the difficult fiscal environment by requiring the DoD to purchase rockets from certified providers that offer the best possible value. It also protects our national security by ensuring continued access to space, which is critical to the detection of missiles, transmitting secure communication, and gathering intelligence.”