US Military’s Satellite Launches Still Depend on Russia’s Rockets

Officials Unhappy, But Struggle to Create a New Space Industry

One of the many secret shames of the US military is that their military spy satellites and spacecraft, though nominally provided by a domestic partnership of Lockheed and Boeing called the United Launch Alliance (ULA), is dependent entirely on Russian-made rockets.

ULA has a virtual monopoly on US government launches, but buys its RD-180 rocket engines from Russian military exporters, meaning the monopoly is really Russia’s. Russian officials recently banned the sale of RD-180 rockets to US importers if they are intended for military applications.

Pentagon officials say they’re not clear if that ban is serious or not, but despite talking up their “two-year stockpile,” the Pentagon’s planned launches require 38 engines, and they’re down to only 16.

Military officials aren’t happy, and Congressional hawks are furious, saying its unacceptable to be buying foreign-made rockets to begin with, but the many billions of dollars and many years it will cost to create a domestic “space industry” just to support the military’s operations is not the sort of thing that disappears simply because it makes officials upset.

If anything, the military’s desire to throw money at well-connected domestic companies like ULA created the “problem” for them, as ULA never imagined it would have to make rocket engines itself when it could just buy Russian and jack up the prices.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of