Arizona Senator John McCain said Wednesday that the United States uses Russian rocket engines to send U.S. satellites into space. Is he right? We gave his claim a PolitiFact truth test to find out.
“Today Russia holds many of our most precious national security satellites at risk before they ever get off the ground,” McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
“Today Russia holds many of our most precious national security satellites at risk before they ever get off the ground”
He noted that using the Russian engines, RD-180s, benefits Russian President Vladimir Putin and his “gang of corrupt cronies.” The Russian government is in fact a major stockholder in the company that produces them. The senior senator even introduced legislation Thursday to stop using Russian engines.
Independent experts vetted McCain's Russian engines claim.
Richard Bloom is the director of terrorism, intelligence and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. He said the United States has used the RD-180s since 2000. The first flight occurred that year too.
“He’s certainly correct, the U.S. has been dependent on the Russian Federation,” Bloom said.
While Bloom noted that “national security” can be defined in many ways, from 2000 to 2010 he said there were about 29 U.S. space launches using the RD-180.
And, despite the current reliance on Russian engines, United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that has a contract with the Air Force to launch the satellites, told ABC15 via email that a new American engine is “being developed.”
McCain said that the United States is using Russian engines to send U.S. satellites into space.
That's correct, though the level to which that represents a risk, as McCain said, is somewhat unknown. Russia did at one point threaten to stop exporting the Russian-made engines fueling the U.S. satellite program. But it didn't follow through.
The U.S. government’s goal is to eventually end this dependence on Russian-made engines, but, for now, that is not the case.
We rate McCain’s claim as Mostly True.
For more information on this fact-check, visit our news partner, PolitiFact Arizona.