James Describes Way Forward to U
James Describes Way Forward to
U.S-Built Complete Space-Launch System
By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media
Washington D.C. — (DoD
News) — January 27, 2016 — Everyone agrees the United States depends on
space-based assets as part of the defense of the homeland and the ability to
command and control forces worldwide, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told
the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning.
What’s at issue is launching these critical capabilities into orbit using
Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines, she said.
The United Nations imposed sanctions against Russia last year for its actions
in Ukraine and James and Frank Kendall, the defense undersecretary for
acquisition, technology and logistics, testified before the committee on DoD
efforts to encourage commercial providers to develop systems not reliant on
“Space is key to projecting credible and effective power around the world to
support our allies and deter aggression,” James said. “Maintaining our advantage
requires the ability to modernize and replenish our space architecture through a
reliable launch capability.”
By law, this so-called “short access” to space must be provided by commercial
companies. Right now, that requires having access to “about 18 RD-180” engines
used in the first stage of the U.S. Atlas 5 rocket, James said.
But the Air Force is looking beyond the Russian rockets and is encouraging
commercial companies to create a new generation of innovation in launch
capabilities. “We’re optimistic about these new commercial entrants and have
contributed our time, resources, energy and expertise to help develop their
systems, understand needs, certify them for government applications, learn from
their failures, and celebrate their successes,” she said.
No Alternative Yet
But while there is hope in the future, there is no alternative to the Russian
rockets. “We must keep in mind the only launch vehicles that can reach the full
range of orbit and carry our heaviest payloads today, remain the Atlas and Delta
families,” James said.
United Launch Alliance builds and flies the Atlas and Delta for the U.S.
government and other commercial customers. The company enjoys an unprecedented
record of successful launches, 90 of which were accomplished under the Evolved
Expendable Launch Vehicle program, the secretary said.
“Funding for these government-mandated mission assurance requirements, along
with the costs of maintaining launch infrastructure and a skilled workforce,
came through a contract vehicle with the government known as the [Evolved
Expendable Launch Vehicle] launch capability arrangement, otherwise known as the
ELC,” she said.
The Air Force wants to get away from this type of deal. “DoD must look for
ways to meet the mandate of at least two commercially viable launch vehicles or
family of launch vehicles capable of launching national security payloads,” she
said. “In a global launch environment, commercial viability is all about cost.”
The answer appears to be a public-private partnership as the best way to
ensure access to at least two domestic launch service providers, James said.
“This business model I want to say again is a better deal for the taxpayer
because it uses to a degree other people's money to help eliminate our
dependency on the RD-180,” she said. “And our [fiscal year] 2017 budget requests
will reflect this approach.”
The next budget request would ensure the availability of a complete launch
system through public-private partnerships, she said, with launches of the new
system set for fiscal 2022 or 2023. “We believe this is the best approach to
achieve our mandate of assured access to space with two certified, commercially
competitive domestic launch providers,” she said.
She asked the senators to remove language in the fiscal 2016 budget that
restricts the use of these funds to engine development alone so the service can
shift to the complete launch system.
“So far, of the $260 million authorized and appropriated … we
have obligated just over $176 million,” she said. “The balance will be obligated
soon pending of course successful outcome on negotiations with industry.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
Related Biographies :
Deborah Lee James
Related Factsheets :
Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle