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Russia’s RD-180: Pentagon Opens Probe Into Allegations Against McCain, Musk

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The Department of Defense’s Inspector General has launched an investigation into accusations by a top United Launch Alliance executive that Senator John McCain was working with Elon Musk to outlaw a Russian rocket engine that he views as his company’s competition.

Last week, ULA Engineering Vice President Brett Tobey resigned after it became public that he had accused McCain of teaming up with the SpaceX founder to ban the imported RD-180 engine that is used to power ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicles. ULA, a collaboration of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and SpaceX are competing for Pentagon business following the certification of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for military space launches.

"At the request of the Secretary of Defense, the OIG DoD has opened an investigation regarding assertions made by United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) former Vice-President of Engineering relating to competition for national security space launch and whether contracts to ULA were awarded in accordance with DoD and Federal regulations," according to a March 22 DoD IG memo to the Air Force secretary. "This investigation will include, but is not limited to, site visits, interviews, and documentation review with DoD and ULA personnel."

Audio obtained by Space News captured Tobey making the accusations during a presentation in mid-March at the University of Colorado.

“This guy right here, John McCain, who basically doesn’t like us; he’s like this with Elon Musk,” Tobey said during a March 15 presentation at the University of Colorado-Boulder, according to audio posted by Space News. “So Elon Musk says, 'Why don’t you guys go, why don’t you go after United Launch Alliance and see if you can get that engine to be outlawed?' ”

During his speech, Tobey suggested “silencing” McCain, who is the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman.

“The problem is that it carries a $1 billion or $2 billion budget, and is it worth that billion or two dollars of taxpayer money just to silence John McCain, who’s the squeaky wheel in all this?” Tobey said. “It really is a one-man band out there that’s driving forward. Everyone wants to get off of the RD-180 engine, but they want to do it in a more logical and organized way that basically doesn’t put those national assets at risk.”

ULA CEO Tony Bruno did not approve of Tobey’s commentary however, announcing that his employee had resigned, effective immediately, and claiming that his company welcomes competition.

“The views, positions and inaccurate statements Mr. Tobey presented at his recent speaking engagement were not aligned with the direction of the company, my views, nor the views I expect from ULA leaders,” Bruno said in a statement. “Mr. Tobey resigned his position at ULA effective immediately.”

Following the reports, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called the statements “concerning” and called for “appropriate action” from the Pentagon Inspector General, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement to Defense News.

"The Department strives to ensure all contracts are awarded in a fair and impartial manner based strictly on the terms of the solicitation and source selection criteria," Cook said in a March 18 email. "The Secretary is concerned by recent statements regarding competition for national security space launch and, consistent with the recommendation of Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and Deborah James, Secretary of the Air Force, has referred the matter to the DoD Inspector General for appropriate action."

McCain has reportedly sought a ban on the RD-180 engine because of what he has called “Russian aggression” in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Other lawmakers have pushed to allow the continued purchase of the Russian rocket until a domestic alternative becomes available.

"These statements raised troubling questions about the nature of the relationship between the Department of Defense and ULA," McCain said in a statement. "This committee treats with the utmost seriousness any implication that the department showed favoritism to a major defense contractor or that efforts have been made to silence members of Congress. Mr. Secretary, I expect that you will make a full investigation into these statements and take action wherever appropriate."

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Tags:
Rockets, Pentagon, United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Ashton Carter, John McCain, Brett Tobey, Elon Musk
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  • AnomicDust
    McCain can be blamed after Falcon 9 explodes in flames.
  • siberianhusky
    Is it a surprise that America is falling apart at the seams?
  • Space is big enough for many rocket engine manufacturers. It just so happens that quality, performance, reliability, maturity, and etc... are key selling points.
  • Kim Kyu-Un
    John McCain should go to jail, for trying to have this engine banned,
    just to help his cronies. This is Corruption at its finest!
  • FlorianGeyer
    Perhaps Russia should refuse to sell the US any more engines. I always enjoy seeing a US rocket crash to earth.
  • lianasammartino
    what a criminal....will Arizonans elect him AGAIN????
  • cast235
    He is a crook. But let's not forget why he is that way. Guess what sent him to a pit in Viet Nam?
    Russian made missiles.
    THAT'S why he hates them.
    Truth be told, that rocket engine is a GREAT bargain for U.S. It will need years to come close, And maybe still not equal and with bugs and maybe accidents.

    The billions calculated, will may double or worst. Every second something may go up in price. Employees get raises somewhere, thus, changing the equation.
    With all that cash, THINK how many Russian rockets could be bought. CHEAP!!

    Only for military Russia said no.

    So why waste that cash? I think there is way more. That meets the eye .

    About Russian aggression. Why Russia need to let U.S destroy,kill governments with lies and propaganda, to turn them into slaves?
    Russia is NOT the Soviet union. The second west thought it won, it created a MONSTER. Why?
    Russia is NOT Soviet Union nor socialist. Russia runs with hard cash, and it needs it's niches and financial strategy globally,
    For now it looks like a loser. The transition was too hard . But Russia will keep gaining terrain around the financial world. And there is NOTHING no one can do. Sanctions will bit back hard. Because this sanctions are to maintain a status quo globally.Why E.U sanctioned Sberbank? Because was raking billions. Energy pack 3 of E.U. To steal Gazprom profits.
    About Russian weapons export? To not lose terrain. Russia build SERIOUS competition today. And when designers play with looks, they know what will happen. China cheap toys, will be ditched too. But China have it's own needs and markets.

    When Soviet Union was imploded by Gorbachev, it was U.S E.U LOSS day. Yet they stole and abused, but what is coming out of that, will amaze the world one day. Just look how beautiful and modern it became , overnight. See how U.S and all west is trying to outperform a rocket engine that is nearly 50 years old.
    Winning the cold war by force? All west would had lost. overnight.
  • Ivan Buckeye
    It's no secret how McCain is a pathological liar. That man is a complete loss, a loss for Arizona and the United States. How does John McCain feel about being a fake, who subverts American money and hinders the progress of his country? He doesn't give a crap as long as there are fakes around him patting him on the back telling him what a great patriot he is, which, by the way, the man doesn't actually have any honest friends to tell him the truth. Fool.
  • Bob Hoferer
    Like Obama, McCain is nothing other than a 'national' disgrace.
  • Annin reply toKim Kyu-Un(Show commentHide comment)
    Kim Kyu-Un, mclame should be in jail for a lot more than that.
  • Annin reply tolianasammartino(Show commentHide comment)
    lianasammartino, mclame is not elected - he is SELECTED by the elites who own the polls.
  • Annin reply tocast235(Show commentHide comment)
    cast235, Russia does not in any way look like "a loser." The Russian people have sacrificed too much and suffered and scraped for too long to EVER be considered losers. They have climbed out of a western trap and thrived again, to being a superpower again. There is nothing about "losers" in Russia. The hearts and souls of Russia cannot be matched - or dominated.
  • teddy j
    it is always welcome news to see the DENIZENS of the empire of chaos in their war for profit industry EAT each other.

    that is good news for the rest of the world when these american war-profit-racketeers expose themselves for the callous profit-hungry savages in suits that they really are.

    THEY AND their EMPIRE USA is a danger to the entire planet and its inhabitants.

    as SIGMUND FREUD described "'AMERICA"...:

    "I came to america meeting a generation of Neurotic Paranoids....I left america seeing a generation of VIOLENT LUNATICS....america is gigantic, yes; but an accident and a mistake, nonetheless...a GIGANTIC MISTAKE.......

    "IS it not strange that we in europe are so materially dependent on such a country that is nothing more than wealthy savages?"

    in his ''report" to his friend CARL JUNG...decades ago...

    and LO AND BEHOLD -- decades LATER -- it is EVEN MORE obviously so as he described ''america".
  • teddy jin reply tocast235(Show commentHide comment)
    cast235,

    cast235-=-

    remember PUTIN\S sharp response to MCCAIN rambling on about how putin and russia are so bad?

    PUTIN SAID something like this":

    "WELL....of course someone like that will say such things - especially if you remember that he fell out of the sky and they captured him for a long time so .... and it must have done something to his brain".

    HEHE....
  • teddy jin reply tocast235(Show commentHide comment)
    cast235,

    to me -- cas

    russia was NEVER a loser. not during the USSR, NOT AFTER.

    YES -- russia -- like all countries has her challenges and problems too -- and like any country it is a continuous effort to try and keep improving as a nation and life for the people.

    but RUSSIA -- at least in the eyes of billions across the world that are suffering and SICK of american/western colonialism -- IS a WINNER.

    russia stands to the world as a HOPE and inspiration because of how the people of RUSSIA have defended their country's independence and sovereignty and STILL continue to improve even against great challenges...whether they are in the old times under the CZARS - BEFORE the modern world -- and against european attempts to invade and conquer russia -- or other invaders --

    or during the USSR that the usa tried to ''isolate" -- with russia still trying to defend her sovereignty AND the sovereignty of OTHER countries --

    or TODAY with russia continuing to stand up for the RIGHT of nations to be independent, be sovereign and follow their path to development and improvement according to what is BEST for THEIR conditions .

    THAT is a great, great accomplishment by the people and nation of RUSSIA_

    AS THE EXAMPLE of DIGNITY as a nation that preserves HER sovereignty and will bow to NO ONE in her path towards improving the lives of her people.

    it is an inspiration for the rest of the world suffering from AMERICAN/western tyranny, pillage and plunder of nations.
  • wendigoin reply toFlorianGeyer(Show commentHide comment)
    FlorianGeyer, no kidding. Then sell some at discounts to ... anyone else! Good place to get more counter sanctions.
  • asco
    McCain is a nut case
  • FlorianGeyerin reply toasco(Show commentHide comment)
    asco,

    Indeed he is. The excuse being that he had a bad time in North Vietnamese captivity during the US war there.

    McCain and his fellow US pilots were carpet bombing North Vietnam and murdering thousands of civilians, so is it not unreasonable that he was not loved as a bringer of 'American Values' after he was shot down?

    I would argue that the treatment of men held in Guantanamo by the US Military today for more than 10 years and WITHOUT any charges or proof of any guilt have been treated harshly as well.
  • Annin reply toFlorianGeyer(Show commentHide comment)
    FlorianGeyer, And nobody ever heard mclame speak out against THAT, did they? In fact, he's all for somebody else getting tortured. He's a piece of human rubbish.
  • Rasmus Sylvesterin reply toFlorianGeyer(Show commentHide comment)
    FlorianGeyer, I'd miss the complaints from the John McCain department.
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