A Boost for RD-180

The Air Force will present a plan for an alternative to the Russian RD-180 rocket engine in the Fiscal 2016 defense budget request set to go to Congress in February, said Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, military deputy in the Air Force’s acquisition shop. The Air Force is teamed with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to develop the plan, a “key element” of which will be choosing an alternative that will be competitive “in the international launch market,” she told defense reporters in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19. The Air Force thinks an engine with good international launch sales prospects would draw private investment, and the increased production numbers would drive costs lower, she said. An acquisition strategy is still being developed, she said. The engine was deemed necessary when tensions between the United States and Russia over the Ukraine crisis called into question whether the United States should be dependent on the RD-180 for its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle boosters. Pawlikowski’s boss, Air Force acquisition executive William LaPlante, has called the RD-180 “the best hydrocarbon rocket engine” in the world. Pawlikowski said the Air Force is watching the private market, and that industry may move to develop such an engine—maybe more than one—on its own, without an Air Force program. “Maybe that’s my solution,” she said. (Want more from Pawlikowski? Read: JSTARS Recap Milestone.)