McCain Blows His Top Over US Inability to Abandon Russian Rocket Engines

© AP Photo / Matt YorkUS Sen. John McCain
US Sen. John McCain - Sputnik International
US Senator John McCain is blowing a gasket over America's inability to find a suitable substitution for Russia's RD-180 engines, accusing his Republican fellows of playing into Moscow's hands, US journalist Tim Mak notes.

Regardless of its widely discussed sanctions policy, the United States still cannot break its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines to get to space, US journalist Tim Mak notes, adding that the situation has left US Senator John McCain seething with rage.

"But the reality is there may not be an alternate to the Russian engines-at least not in the short term," the journalist highlighted.

Russian RD-180 rocket engine - Sputnik International
US to Replace Russian RD-180 Rocket Engines by 2017 - Senator John McCain
He elaborated that McCain has previously made an attempt to ban the use of Russia's RD-180 by 2019. However, the deadline set by the senator has been recognized as unrealistic by the US Air Force.

"All of the technical experts with whom I have consulted have told me this is not a one- or two- or three-year deal. You're looking at six years, maybe seven years to develop an engine, and another year or two beyond that to integrate. This truly is rocket science. These are hard technical problems, and so to have that 2019 date there is pretty aggressive, and I'm not sure we can make it," Deborah Lee James, the secretary of the Air Force, said in an official statement addressing a congressional panel in February, as quoted by Mr. Mak.

A ULA Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. - Sputnik International
US Air Force Launches Competition to Replace Russian Rocket Engines
The RD-180 has been used by the US space agency, the Pentagon and the US intelligence service since the end of the Cold War and is a reliable and a cost-effective solution. The Atlas V rocket, "the workhorse of the American fleet," "was built around" the Russian-made engine, the journalist stressed.

Although the Russo-American relations has dramatically deteriorated in the last two years, the US United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space and Security, insists that the creation of an alternative to the Russian-made RD-180 is not in sight yet.

At the same time, Republican Senator Richard Shelby, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, who is regarded as a major supporter of the ULA consortium, is also seeking to soften the prohibition.

What makes matters even worse for Senator McCain, one of the most vocal proponents of anti-Russian sanctions, is that the section 8045 of the Senate's defense appropriations bill may deal a heavy blow to his efforts to prohibit purchases of Russian-made engines.

"The appropriations language says competitions for the Air Force's space launches in fiscal year 2016 must consider bids from at least two providers. In reality, there are only two possible competitors, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, which means a failure to bid by the latter could gum up the Air Force's program," the journalist stressed.

Predictably the section has infuriated Senator McCain, who called it "outrageous." Mr. Mak noted that the defense appropriations bill could be again talked over in the Senate this week.

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