National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2017

Floor Speech

Date: June 7, 2016
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GARDNER. Mr. President, when I was growing up in the Eastern Plains of Colorado, one of the things I was hoping to do after graduating from college and entering the workforce was to work in the space program. I desperately wanted to be an engineer--an astronaut. I wanted to live that dream that was played on the television when I was growing up and when there were movies such as ``The Right Stuff.'' When I was growing up in the mid-1980s, the movies they showed idealized the world of space exploration. I grew up idolizing the astronauts.

I can remember as a child writing a letter to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, and basically telling them that I was really interested in becoming an astronaut and how I could someday do that. Little did I know that my mom, all these years later, kept the response from NASA, and the letter had the old ``worm'' NASA logo on top. The response came with a picture of the most recent space shuttle mission, which included Sally Ride. Of course we know Sally Ride, the first female in the space shuttle program. I remember how excited I was to get that letter back.

Years later, I looked at the actual content of the letter and noted that they weren't necessarily quite as kind in confirming my aspirations when they laid out how difficult it would be to become a rocket scientist--to become an aerospace engineer and to go on and pursue that dream. Lo and behold, they were right. I ended up pursuing a different direction in college and beyond, but I always had great admiration and respect for the men and women of our space program.

Growing up on the Eastern Plains of Colorado was a fascinating experience. I learned how people ran their businesses and how today many of our tractors and combines rely on the very space programs that I was admiring. The roots of the space program that we saw in the 1970s and 1980s are being utilized today to steer tractors, satellite-guided equipment, to locate the best yield in a field through combines that use global positioning systems and precision farming data to better their operations. Of course, we have these debates today that remind me about those conversations. We have debates today over policy about how we are going to see the future of space, how we are going to see the future of security, how we are going to see the future of rocket launches in this country. It reminds me of the conversations that I had with those farmers in the Eastern Plains.

My family sells farm equipment today in a little, tiny town out by Kansas. Oftentimes farmers would come in and talk about how they would be more productive this year and what kind of equipment they needed to be tailormade for their operation, how they could create a farming program with the farm equipment they would buy in order to have the right type of tractor, the right type of combine, or the right type of tillage equipment to meet the needs of their operation.

When they would come in and talk to us about what kind of farm equipment best fit their needs, they would look at what price range they had to deal with--what was more affordable or less affordable. They would look at the utility of a single piece of equipment. Could this tractor or combine meet all of their needs? Could it harvest corn and sunflowers? Could it harvest soybeans? Could it pick sunflower seeds? Could it pick up dried beans? Those are the conversations we would have.

What they didn't do was come in and say: Hey, I want to buy a piece of equipment that costs 35 percent more than any other piece of equipment and doesn't fit the needs of our operation. We sold red farm equipment. There may have been equipment that somebody would want to do that with, but the fact is this: When they came into our store, they wanted farm equipment that would fit their needs at the right price and was able to meet the demands of all of their operations so they wouldn't have to use a tractor for this field and a different tractor for that field or pay for a tractor that costs 35 percent more over here and a tractor that didn't fulfill all of their needs over there.

When I look at the debates today over the National Defense Authorization Act and how we are handling our Nation's rocket program, the EELV programs--the debate that has occupied this Congress for a number of years--I think back to the common sense of those farmers on the High Plains of Colorado because what is common sense on the High Plains is just plain sense in Washington, DC, and that is what we are facing during this debate over what rockets we are going to allow this country to use in the future. That is the argument that we are making today. It is an argument about competition, it is an argument about costs, and it is an argument about what is actually going to fulfill all of our needs in space and not leave us without the capability to meet our national security space missions. That is the critical part of what we are talking about today. Just as those farmers on the Eastern Plains did--they talked about the best fit for their mission to make sure they could plant their crops, to make sure they could get the crops out of the field and do it in an affordable manner so they would still be in operation the next year despite the fact that they had historically low commodity prices, just as we are facing a historically tight budget in the U.S. Congress.

What we are talking about is our national security. It is not about tractors in a field, and it is not about whether we are going to have the right combine. This debate is about national security space missions. This debate is about having the right kind of rocket to launch a critical mission that might include a satellite on top that is for missile launch detection, or perhaps it is a rocket that is going to put into orbit a device that will listen and provide opportunities for us to know what is happening across the world or across the United States. Maybe it is something that is related to that organization that I was so desperate to join, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA. Maybe it is the Dream Chaser from Sierra Nevada Corporation, which is attempting to build a vehicle that will be placed on top of one of the rockets that might be no longer available, should the current language of the National Defense Authorization Act move forward.

We have the same kinds of debates every day in our business, whether you are a farmer or a car dealer, but this is about our security, this is about our defense, and this is about our ability to provide competition in space, to provide rockets that compete for business, to provide rockets that are cost effective for their mission, to provide rockets for this country to meet those critical missions that we talked about that are reliable and have a proven record. That is what we are doing today, and that is why Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and I have together worked on amendment No. 4509 to make sure when it comes to our ability to reach space, to reach the orbits that we need to, we can do it in a cost environment that reflects the reality of budgets today and do it in a way that we know can be reliable. This amendment will address those concerns by peeling out the language of the National Defense Authorization Act to ensure competition, to ensure reliability, to ensure affordability, and to assure that those agencies such as NASA or perhaps USGS and other agencies that are relying on space more and more have the ability and capacity to reach the orbits they are trying to reach.

The Nelson-Gardner amendment assures competition. That is something we have all agreed is critically important as we look to the future of our space and launch programs. This addresses the certification of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, the EELV program that I mentioned before, to make sure that a provider can be awarded a national security launch for one of these critical missions by using any launch vehicle in its inventory.

Why is that important? Because we need to make sure that the U.S. Government has the ability to receive the best value. It is the same conversation those farmers were having about what farm equipment they were going to use back home, except this is a critical national security space mission.

If we prevent this language from being removed or if we don't allow the Nelson-Gardner amendment to move forward, then it is going to be very difficult for us to have that competition. For instance, you are looking at the possibility that a rocket we are using right now known as the Atlas V rocket, which has never failed, would be forced to bid for future rocket missions; that is, United Launch Alliance, which makes the Atlas V rocket right now, would be forced to bid using more expensive Delta forerunners. To be expensive is one thing, but to cost 35 percent more than what we already have today is missing that common sense that I talked about on the High Plains of Colorado.

This amendment will make sure that we abide by the request of the U.S. Air Force, which is concerned that if we allow the provision of the National Defense Authorization Act to move forward today, that would bar our ability to use certain rocket engines; that if the Atlas V, which relies on this rocket engine, is banned prematurely from DOD's use, that alternative--which means they would have to use that Delta IV rocket--would cost an additional $1.5 to $5 billion more versus simply relying on the proven and effective rocket that we have today.

I think everybody in this Chamber agrees that we can move to a different rocket than the Atlas V, which relies on the engine prohibited under the act. Everybody agrees with that, but what they don't agree with is the fact that we would spend $1.5 billion more to achieve this goal.

We are going to be debating very soon an amendment that will add $18 billion and put that money into our defense because people are concerned that we have a dwindling capacity in our military to meet the needs around the globe for U.S. national security needs; that our men and women in uniform don't have the dollars they need to fix the equipment they are relying upon.

This Chamber is going to be voting on putting more money into national defense. Allowing the language that is currently in the bill would bar our ability to use this engine in an existing rocket, and it would cost $1.5 billion more. The fiscally responsible thing to do is to allow for competition, to allow this rocket to continue to be used, to allow this engine to continue to be used as we transition out of this engine and in a few years to have a different type of engine and different type of rocket that they are working on right now. And in a few years we will have it. To say that we are going to change and eliminate competition today, we are going to drive up costs by 35 percent, and we are going to turn to a rocket that can't meet all the orbits, can't meet all our needs, and doesn't have the track record of the Atlas V--that is the definition of irresponsibility.

Adding $1.5 billion to $5 billion of cost and also eliminating competition is not what I think this place should stand for. The Senate should stand for competition. We should achieve what remarkable changes we have seen in the space program, as more people are entering into the rocket market. We have seen new entrants into rocket launchers--and that is what we are talking about today--to continue the competition, not lessen the competition by eliminating it, taking offline models of rockets and then spending $5 billion more.

We have already talked about the farmer sitting in the field. If he has a combine that could cost 35 percent more but does the same job as the one that cost 35 percent less, which one is he going to choose? Which one would his banker want him to choose? The American people would want us to go with what is proven and what is reliable. Let's transition off of it--you bet--but not at an increased cost to our defense of $1.5 billion to $5 billion more.

To support this amendment and the rocket competition that this Nation deserves is what is fiscally conservative. The pro-competition position ensures that the U.S. Air Force and National Aeronautics and Space Administration will have access to space. It is about meeting the needs of those in our Air Force, NASA, and others who have said that we need this critical mission.

As General Hyten testified before this Congress, the Department of Defense will incur additional costs to reconfigure missions to fly on a different rocket--the Delta IV we have been talking about and the Delta IV Heavy--because the competitor to the Atlas V doesn't have a rocket as capable as the Atlas V and can fly to only half of the necessary orbits.

In 2015 and 2016, the Air Force and the Defense Department leadership testified to the need for additional RD-180 engines--that is the engine that we have been talking about that is stripped out of the Atlas V, ending the Atlas V program--to compete for launches and to assure that the United States doesn't lose assured access to space, making sure we can get to where we need to go to place a satellite in the orbit it needs to be in to provide security for this country. We can do it with a reliable system at an affordable cost.

We talked about competition. The Nelson-Gardner amendment promotes competition by allowing the Defense Department to contract for launch services with any certified launch vehicle until December 2022, allowing competition to 2022 and transitioning out of the RD-180 so that we can have more competition in the future.

The language we have been discussing--I believe it is section 1036 or 1037 of the National Defense Authorization Act--eliminates this competition. It puts an end to it by ending the use of these engines and basically taking out the Atlas V rocket. The Atlas V, again, is the United States' most cost effective and capable launch vehicle.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the Atlas V rocket, which is powered by the RD-180 engine, has had 68 successful Atlas V launches since 2000. The Atlas V has never experienced a failure. When talking about competition, cost, reliability, and putting a satellite on top of a rocket--where many times that satellite costs more than the rocket itself--we can't afford a failure from a fiscal standpoint, and we certainly can't afford a failure from a security standpoint. That is why we need reliability and a proven track record.

This debate is complicated. People for years have talked about the Atlas V, the Delta IV, and the Falcon 9. People ask: What does it all mean, which engine do we use, how do we transition, and why did we end up in this position in the first place?

There are a lot of people who have come to the floor on different issues, saying it is not rocket science, but, indeed, today we are talking about rocket science and the need to have an Atlas V rocket that provides competition, reliability, and the opportunity for the United States to meet our national security needs.

Without the Nelson-Gardner amendment, the underlying language of the National Defense Authorization Act legislates a monopoly. It creates a monopoly with the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program, or EELV, because only one company would be allowed to fairly compete. While we have all committed to competition and we all have said we are going to transition away from this rocket engine, we actually would be passing legislation that would create a legislative monopoly. That is not plain common sense; that is nonsense.

It is important to note that the Department of Defense isn't the one that is buying these rocket engines in the first place. The Department of Defense buys the launch services. The Nelson-Gardner amendment would allow United Launch Alliance and others to compete for missions with the Atlas V. The ULA is competing with the Atlas V. Others could be competing as well. If the ULA does not win the competition, the Department of Defense will not be using the RD-180 engine. It makes sense to me.

Promoting this open and fair competition to get the best deal for the taxpayers of this country--to get the best deal for national security needs in this country--is the fiscally responsible path forward and allows the DOD to achieve those priorities. It allows the Air Force to reach the space that they need to. It is not just the Air Force; it is the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of the Air Force, Commander of the U.S. Space Command, the Air Force teaching staff, and many others who have testified before this Congress in support of continued use of the RD-180 rocket engine until a new domestic engine is certified for national security space engines. Compared to the Delta IV, the Atlas V can reach every national security space mission that we need with certified, 100-percent reliability from the Atlas V. We don't have that anywhere else.

It has been made clear by the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of the Air Force, and the Commander of Space Command that ensuring America's access to space is an issue of national security, as well as protecting the taxpayers' dollars that are already so scarce in the defense budget. Why would we add an additional $1 billion in cost by eliminating competition when we ought to be doing the exact opposite?

The Nelson-Gardner amendment promotes national security by assuring reliable access to space that we talked about, to make sure that we have a certified launch service available with a proven track record. The Atlas V rocket is one of the most successful rockets in American history. Since 2000, we have had 68 consecutive successful launches with zero failures, according to the Congressional Research Service. That is a 16-year track record.

According to the Department of Defense--and this is important--if Atlas V restrictions are imposed, certain missions would sustain up to 2\1/2\ years of delay.

We have threats emerging around the globe. This past week I had the opportunity to visit South Korea. We met with General Brooks, and we talked about the need this country has in assuring a denuclearized Korean peninsula to make sure that North Korea doesn't possess the capability to launch a nuclear weapon that could hit the mainland of the United States. That is not something that can wait year after year because we made a decision that costs the taxpayer more and lessens our capacity and capability of going into space.

In fact, what I heard from General Brooks and from others in South Korea is that our intelligence needs and requirements in North Korea are only increasing. So why would we decrease competition? Why would we decrease access to space? Why would we increase costs when our security needs are growing?

The Nelson-Gardner amendment assures that we have this access because we know if there is a 2\1/2\-year delay, not only does that prevent us from putting important assets into space, it will also drive up costs. The space-based infrared system, SBIRS, warning satellites designed for ballistic missile detection from anywhere in the world, particularly countries such as North Korea, would be delayed. The Mobile User Objective System and Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite systems that are designed to deliver vital communications capabilities to our armed services around the world would both be delayed.

According to a letter dated the 23rd of May from the Deputy Secretary of Defense, ``losing/delaying the capability to place position and navigation, communication, missile warning, nuclear detection, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance satellites in orbit would be significant.''

Challenges to our freedom around the globe in the Middle East, North Korea, along with what is happening in Southeast Asia and the radicalization occurring in certain countries mean we can't afford delay. We can't afford cost increases. It is not just the defense bill. It is not just the Secretary of the Air Force. It is these agencies that we have also talked about tonight, like NASA.

The Nelson-Gardner amendment supports our civil space missions by ensuring access and allowing Federal Government agencies to contract any certified launch service provider because many of those missions that are critical to NASA's success outside of the DOD are designed to fly atop an Atlas V rocket. According to the Wall Street Journal, while the underlying NDAA language only directly impacts the Department of Defense, the result ``is likely to raise the price of remaining NASA missions because massive overhead costs would have to be spread across fewer launches.''

That goes back to the conversation about buying one piece of equipment, not a separate combine to harvest corn, a separate combine to harvest wheat, a separate combine to pick up beans. Buy one combine with different attachments, and you can do it all. That is what we are trying to do to make sure that we have the capability in the equipment because if there is a NASA mission and they are placing a Dream Chaser on top of it, or if you are placing something to do with the Orion mission, which is designed to be on top of the Atlas V, you are going to drive up the costs. You have the costs being driven up by the rocket because there are higher costs being spread across fewer agencies. You have a higher cost because you have to redesign the Orion and the Dream Chaser to fit the new rocket. You are going to be delayed, possibly, because of those changes, and it is going to result in higher costs.

So we have a responsibility to the American people in how we transition away from the RD-180 engine while ensuring reliability, access, and maintaining competition. It is by keeping the Atlas V.

At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on March 10, NASA Administrator Bolden highlighted the need for the Atlas V by stating, ``We are counting on ULA being able to get the number of engines that will satisfy requirements for NASA to fly.'' That is not a congressional staffer making it up in the back room of the mail office; that is the Administrator of NASA. He went on to talk about the mission's impact. He talked about the Dream Chaser, which was recently awarded a cargo resupply services contract. This isn't pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff; this is a company that has already been awarded a cargo resupply service contract to supply the International Space Station.

The Dream Chaser was designed to fly atop the Atlas V rocket. The language in the NDAA would strip this ability to use that rocket. Our amendment, the Nelson-Gardner amendment, would allow us to use the commonsense approach, to use that plain sense that I talked about.

Michael Griffen, former NASA Administrator, weighed in on the issue, stating:

A carefully chosen committee led by Howard Mitchell, United States Air Force, Retired, made two key recommendations in the present matter: 1. Proceed with all deliberate speed to develop an American replacement for the Russian RD-180 engine [and we agree], and while that development is being carried out, buy all the RD-180s we can to ensure that there is no gap in U.S. access to space for national security payloads. I see no reason to alter those recommendations.

We are talking about a hard stop of 2022 so that we can replace the rocket with our own. But in the meantime, let's use some common sense. Let's make sure we are saving the taxpayer dollars. Let's make sure we are not putting an additional cost--pulling $1.5 billion out of our defense budget to cover something that we can already do, when their resources are already far too scare. Let's make sure we have a reliable platform to reach all of the orbits we need to, a platform that has had 68 consecutive launches to achieve the mission needs. This is high-risk stuff. I mentioned as a kid growing up in the Eastern Plains of Colorado how fascinated I was with this rocket science.

I believe this body has a responsibility to adopt the Nelson-Gardner amendment to assure that we can protect our people fiscally and from a defense standpoint. So later this week, as we debate and offer amendment 4509, I hope and encourage everyone to do what is fiscally responsible, to promote competition, to promote access and reliability from the DOD to NASA by adopting the Nelson-Gardner amendment.