Elon Musk Earmark in Defense Authorization Bill Would Hurt National Security

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during an event to launch the new Tesla Model X Crossover SUV on September 29, 2015 in Fremont, California.
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The Senate is debating the Defense Authorization Bill, a bill to provide the annual legislation to map out defense spending priorities for the year, and is going to consider an idea that would hurt national security.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is pushing an earmark for Elon Musk that would make him, effectively, the sole distributor of rockets to launch new satellites into space. In a battle between two potential defense contractors, McCain is trying to pass an amendment that would prevent the United Launch Alliance from continuing to provide rockets so that his pal Musk can take over that contract.

The McCain Amendment is numbered 4149 to S.2943, the Defense Authorization Bill for 2017. The Amendment would “impose restrictions on the procurement of services of property in connection with military space launch from entities owned or controlled by persons sanctioned in connection with Russia’s invasions of Crimea.”

The Amendment’s laudable goal to punish the Russians for invading a portion of Ukraine is not the true goal of the amendment. The real goal is to help out his pal Musk who had SpaceX contribute to the McCain Institute for International Leadership and to use the law to forbid the United Launch Alliance (ULA) from continuing with existing contracts.

This effort would harm national security, even though Sen. McCain is taking this action in the name of national security. McCain’s goal seems to be to punish the Russians and favor his friend Musk. This effort would harm national security because it will slow down deployment of satellites and put Elon Musk’s company in charge of deploying these sensitive items. Punishing the Russians may be a good outcome, yet there are already a number of sanctions in place that don’t effectively harm U.S. national security like this supposed sanction. The truth of the matter is that McCain is using Russia bashing as a pre-text to help out a pal.

The U.S. military and intelligence communities expect to launch at an estimated 34 national security and intelligence gathering satellites into space over the next five years. These highly sensitive payloads will help replace aging satellite technology that needs to be replaced. New expensive technology is being deployed to modernize our systems in critical areas like classified intelligence gathering and improved military communications technology right now. These efforts will be hampered by relying on a company, SpaceX, that has had some serious problems and is not nearly as reliable as ULA.

The Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence, Secretary of the Air Force, Commander of U.S. Space Command, Air Force Chief of Staff have all testified before Congress in support of allowing Russian rocket engines until a new domestic engine is certified for launch.  Right now, research and development are under way to make new rocket engines not sourced from Russia. These government officials worry that our national security will be at risk because the United States will have a hampered access to space in the near term if the Elon Musk earmark is signed into law.


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