By Sen. Arthur Orr
With the growing threat of ISIS and other terrorist groups around the world who want to do us harm, it is important now more than ever that our leaders prioritize keeping us safe. Alabama plays a key role in that goal by being the home to where our nation’s most secure, reliable, and advanced rockets are built. In Decatur, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) builds the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets which launch our nation’s military, NASA, and commercial satellites into space. The ULA plant employs or directly contracts with close to 1,000 Alabamians across north Alabama.
Fortunately for Alabama and our national security, Senator Richard Shelby recently put a stop to a provision pushed by a powerful western Senator at the behest of one of President Obama’s top donors, Elon Musk, who owns SpaceX, a ULA competitor. The provision prematurely restricted the military use, but not NASA or commercial use, of the foreign made RD-180 engine used on ULA rockets.
After the Cold War when relations were different between the U.S. and Russia, ULA and other aerospace companies were encouraged by the U.S. government to buy the Russian made RD-180 engine to keep them out of the hands of unfriendly nations like Iran. Because of recent Russian aggressions, ULA desires to use only American made engines and is developing with its partners an American engine to launch its rockets. This process is well underway but will take several years.
In the meantime, powerful friends of Elon Musk in the Senate attempted to destroy Alabama jobs for the far inferior SpaceX rocket with its mixed launch record (ULA has over 100 and counting successful, consecutive launches). No serious effort was made to ban any other Russian products such as oil or metals – just the engines that propel our Alabama-made rockets. And because the Elon Musk rocket would only take care of just over half of our military needs, a huge gap in our nation’s defenses would have been created for a period of years.
Musk would have been successful if Senator Richard Shelby hadn’t stood up for our nation and Alabama jobs. Because of his efforts, nearly a thousand good-paying jobs and the families they represent are safe. Though it can seem like “inside baseball” politics at times, having someone like Shelby who wields a big stick in Washington is important to the people of Alabama.
We all agree that we should reduce dependence on Russia and make our own engines here in the U.S. But it is unfathomable that anyone would support the reckless position of ending the use of the RD-180 before we have an American engine developed. I am grateful that Senator Shelby is standing up and fighting for the jobs in our state and the security of our nation.