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Russia Threatens To Halt Critical Rocket Engine Exports To The U.S.

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Despite earlier reported hopes that Putin seeks a deal with Trump, as opposed to escalating tensions, it appears Russia is planniong to do just that.

Last Friday (the 13th), just before the US, UK and France launched 105 Tomahawk missiles at Syria, we noted  that as part of Russian countermeasures against US sanctions, it could halt titanium exports to the US, critical for the production of Boeing airplanes, which promptly sent Boeing's stock lower. 

As it turns out Russia has leverage not only over the biggest US exporter of airplanes and military equipment:  what piqued our interest, is the United States Department of Defense (DoD) dependency on Russian-manufactured rocket engines to launch military satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO).

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Pentagon officials have previously stated their space programs will not migrate to American-built rocket engines until at least 2024, with some analysts forecasting the reliance on Russian-made parts through 2028, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Despite bipartisan demands from Congress to quickly phase out the RD-180 engines on national-security grounds, it is proving harder than many lawmakers expected to secure an equally reliable domestic replacement. Government and industry officials said United Launch Alliance, the Pentagon’s primary rocket provider, likely will continue flying some 1990s-vintage Atlas V boosters with Russian-built engines through 2024 or 2025.”

So now that Congress neglected to phase out the RD-180, as demanded, it has a different name: Moscow leverage. American-made rocket engines from Lockheed Martin and Boeing are expected to enter the commercialization phase as far out as the mid-2020s, which could develop into a dangerous national security threat considering the recent developments in Syria.

And on Tuesday, the Pentagon’s worst fears were highlighted when Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced, “Russia will suspend supplies of rocket engines to the United States in case if a relevant decision is taken by the country’s leadership, but such decision has not been made yet.

“But can we, say, just stop [supplies of rocket engines to the United States]? We can. But we need to weigh the pros and cons and distinguish pure politics that makes one shoot oneself in the foot from economic pragmatism,” Rogozin told the RBC broadcaster when asked a relevant question.

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According to Russian news agency Sputnik, leaders in the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, together with speaker Vyacheslav Volodin introduced a draft law last Friday “on the potential response to US sanctions and anti-Russian policies.”

The draft of new measures specifies a ban on "imports of US agricultural, alcoholic, tobacco products and medical drugs. It also implies the suspension of cooperation between Russia and the United States in nuclear energy, aircraft manufacturing and supplies of rocket engines," said Sputnik.

The announcement of the new draft comes as the United States Department of the Treasury added another “38 Russian entrepreneurs, senior officials and companies to its sanctions list in response to Russia’s alleged malign activity worldwide,” added Sputnik.

And while Bloomberg suggests that a  Russian export ban on rocket engines will only “hurt Russia” — not the United States…

"Similarly, a ban on the export of Russian rocket engines, which the U.S. still buys, would hurt Russians most of all. The U.S. aerospace industry will find replacements (the biggest U.S. launch company, SpaceX, doesn’t use Russian engines, anyway), but Russia will lose the sales.”

... Pentagon officials are “bracing for potential engine shortages,” the Wall Street Journal said, as it seems like the easy days of America’s military buying Russian-made RD-180s to launch their spy satellites could be coming to an end. Whether the Pentagon will then outsource all its geo-orbital needs to one Elon Musk remains to be seen.

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