Russia Keeps Profiting from U.S. Reliance on RD-180 Rocket Engine

“My colleague from Arizona is unmoved by that warning," Durbin wrote, adding that McCain's plan for domestic rocket engine development “would likely cost taxpayers in excess of a billion dollars more" than the plan for Russian engines.

Durbin is a co-chairman of the Senate Ukraine Caucus and has called on the Obama administration to arm Kiev. “A timely increase in U.S. military aid is critical for Ukraine to defend its borders against brazen and violent Russian aggression in the east... more can and must be done for Ukraine, including defensive weapons as soon as possible," the senator said in March 2015 after President Obama approved increased nonlethal aid for Ukraine.

Shelby promoted keeping "those engines, a number of them, for a few years ...for our national security" at an April 27 hearing on the NDAA with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

"Down the road, we want to have two or more competitive launch service providers that are purely American. That's where we'd like to get to. In the meantime, we have to launch our national security payloads," Carter said.

"We can hold our noses, buy RD-180s until that situation is created. Or -- and fly Atlases with RD-180s. The alternative is to fly our payloads on Delta, which is technically feasible, but much more expensive," he added. "And so, that's the choice. And we have chosen the choice of going Atlas, recognizing the distasteful fact that that necessitates purchases of up to 18 more RD-180 engines."

Government officials aren't in complete agreement: while Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James wants no less than 18 engines, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has testified that there are American rockets that can do the job for military- and intelligence-related space trips.

At a May 19 event at the Brookings Institution, McCain said "this isn't the military industrial complex -- this is the military industrial congressional complex. This is corruption."

The senator reference "recorded remarks of one of the executives of ULA which were then published where he said that the Defense Department leaned as far as they could in the direction of ULA as opposed to SpaceX."

"Jeff Bezos and his outfit [Blue Origin], they're building rocket engines. They're not getting any money from the federal government to do it. Elon Musk [of SpaceX] is just revolutionized with the whole business because now you can recover the whole rocket. I mean, it's incredible," McCain continued.

"This is why we need this reform, the reforms that I'm talking about because we need more Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos' in the business rather than -- as much as I love them, rather than the traditional big five that control most of the contracts. This is the circle of the DoD, the Congress and the industry. And it's disgraceful."