Dear Colleague Letter: NASA Cuts Threaten National Defense - Invitation to Important Defense Staff Briefing Next Week


image U.S. House of Representatives

March 25, 2010

Dear Colleague:

Solid Rocket Motors (SRMs) are a vital part of our nation's defense arsenal, and a critical element to all U.S. missile defense interceptors, tactical and strategic missiles, and satellite and human spaceflight launch vehicles.

Production of SRMs has been in steady decline for many years, including a recent dramatic drop following the completion of the Minuteman III propulsion replacement program. This decline was accelerated with last year's Department of Defense termination of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, and drastically curtailed production of Ground Midcourse Defense (GMD) land based interceptors, and with NASA's planned retirement of the Space Shuttle.

With the industry already reeling from the cumulative impacts of these large SRM program cuts and terminations, NASA has now made an ill-advised and drastic decision to propose total cancellation of the Constellation manned space flight program, which would also include termination of the Ares 1 rocket, leaving our nation without a single large-scale SRM program in full production for the first time in 50 years! That will leave the U.S. to rely solely on the Navy's D-5 missile Life Extension program, with a production rate of only one booster stack per month, as the bedrock in sustaining our nation's ability to produce large scale solid rocket motors.

It is clear from recent Congressional testimony (see reverse) that NASA's decision was made in a vacuum, without any coordination or consultation with the Department of Defense, regarding the national defense or industrial base implications of its radical proposal.

Termination of Ares I would leave many solid rocket motor production facilities idle and leading to costly requalification of remaining programs. Decades of highly specialized knowledge, skill and expertise of rocket scientists, engineers and skilled technicians, are in imminent danger of being lost. Regeneration of this infrastructure to meet the needs of future defense or space requirements would, at best, be lengthy, and extremely costly. Abandonment of Ares I could force highly specialized suppliers of unique materials for the SRM industry out of business entirely.

Accordingly, I would like to invite members of your staff to attend an informational briefing regarding the solid rocket motor industrial base on Wednesday, March 31 from 3:30 to 4:30 pm in 2456 Rayburn. (NOTE ROOM CORRECTION)

This important staff briefing will be conducted by representatives from SRM producer, ATK, as well as their suppliers and aerospace industry teammates, followed by lots of time for Q&A. RSVPs are appreciated, but not required. To RSVP, or for further information, please do not hesitate to have your staff contact: Steve Petersen at x5-0456, or steve.petersen@mail.house.gov.

Sincerely,

Rob Bishop
Member of Congress


Selected Department of Defense Statements about the Solid Rocket Motor Industrial Base

The Honorable Ashton Carter, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics - "Our stealth aircraft sector, space, solidrocketmotors, protected communications, where we have in their various ways an industrial base concern. ... [W]e don't have ... very good information about our industrial base." [March 11, 2010, House Armed Services Subcommittee on Defense Acquisition Reform Hearing on Defense Acquisition Issues]

The Honorable Michael Donley, Secretary of the Air Force - "[W]e recognize the decisions made on - on Ares and in the Constellation program in general in NASA. And we have a challenge on the solid rocket motor industrial base and on the booster industrial base, periodSo we - we recognize ... a broader industrial base issue, which we're going to have to wrestle with this year. So we do not right now have a long-term solution to that in hand.". [February 23, 2010, The House Armed Services Committee Hearing on President Obama's Fiscal 2011 Budget Request for the Air Force]

General Kevin Chilton, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command - U.S. STRATCOM Chief Gen. Kevin Chilton said he would "flag" two areas of the industrial base as essential to his mission. One is the continued production of solid rocket propellant and motors, which will take a big hit with the end of shuttle missions and completion of the Minuteman III revamp. If NASA drops SRMs from its new family of rockets, the capability could disappear. ... "You have to look to the future," he said, adding, "You can't 'gap' those capabilities." [January 22, 2010, edition of the Daily Report eNewsletter of AirForce-Magazine.com]

General Robert Kehler, Commander, Air Force Space Command - "[I]n looking at the NASA decision [March 10, 2010, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Hearing on President Obama's Fiscal 2011 Budget Request for Military Space Programs]... there is a challenge here regarding solid rocket motors. And that's the most immediate challenge that we see. The largest demand today on the solid rocket motor industrial base comes NASA, although the Department of Defense - the Air Force and the Navy as well - rely on that same industrial base for both the land-based and the sea-based strategic deterrent, for other launch vehicle solid rocket strap-ons, for example, that we need for EELV and other things. ... [W]e have, to find out whether that's a real concern or whether it is not. And I can't give you the details of that today because what we recommended prior to [NASA's] decision was if this is the decision that's made, we will then have to go off and sit down and take a hard look at what the implications will be for the industrial base. ... We don't have answers yet. What we do have is - is a potential concern...."

Rear Admiral Stephen Johnson, Director, Navy Strategic Systems - "The change in ... national orders for large solid rocket motors causes more of the fixed cost to fall upon the Navy's production costs. ... We expect to see a rise ... of 10 to 20 percent. We are working with the Department of Defense and with the two companies involved to control those costs, but ... they will increase. We have seen an increase and they will continue. ... I would describe the industry as fragile. The government plays an important role in managing that industrial base[March 17, 2010, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Hearing on President Obama's Fiscal 2011 Budget Request for the Strategic Forces] ... [T]he manufacturing requirement for NASA is so much larger ... and we don't know exactly what those costs are going to be. ... It's going to be a difficult cost for the Navy to absorb. ... We don't really know the full extent at this moment. ..."

Office of Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, Industrial Policy - "NASA programs play a significant role in sustaining the industrial capabilities for the SRM industry. ... [I]t takes many DoD missile programs to equal just one Shuttle RSRM booster and it will take more to equal the SRM booster for the new Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles that are part of NASA's Constellation Program.... In the large SRM sector, NASA programs (the Shuttle and the Ares) are still the key contributors to the viability of the SRM industrial base - prime and subtier." [June 2009 "SRM Industrial Capabilities Report for Congress].

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