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July 5, 2015

Russian RD-180 Not the Only Rocket Worry on Capitol Hill

Concerns over the Defense Department’s reliance on the Russian RD-180 rocket engine are just one aspect of the Senate’s worries about foreign-supplied rocket propulsion methods and instances where the Pentagon is counting on one vendor. In a report on the fiscal 2015 defense spending bill the Appropriations Committee approved Thursday, the panel expresses dismay about the overall state of the United States’ ability to produce rocket motors and the department’s tendency to award sole-source contracts.

“The Committee is concerned that the domestic industrial base for tactical solid rocket motors continues to be impacted by constrained budgets, the use of foreign vendors, and a lack of competition,” the report states.

The report refers to an incident with the AMRAAM missile where a “foreign supplier began development and qualification for a new rocket motor” after a U.S.-supplied rocket had issues with blast tube insulation and propellant. It also pointed to word that the Navy might be considering a foreign vendor to supply rocket motors for a “tactical missile program,” and a sole-source contract for the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System’s rocket motors.

The Committee is concerned that in these programs, a competition for a new rocket motor vendor was not executed; and in two programs, the Department is becoming more reliant on a foreign supplier. The Committee is closely following these developments across all services, as rocket motors continue to be a critical component of the defense industrial base. The Committee believes that whenever possible, domestic sources should be considered, and full and open competition employed before awarding contracts.

The panel asked for a Government Accountability Office report on the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System contract and a departmental assessment of both domestic and foreign rocket motors.

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