- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2014

Call it the Crimea conundrum or the Putin problem: the United States needs Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine for national security-oriented satellite launches.

The U.S. Air Force recently confirmed that Elon Musk’s private company SpaceX has completed the first of three missions required to qualify for carrying National Security Space payloads, but as of now the sole certified provider for such tasks belongs to a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. — and Atlas V boosters need the Russian technology, Military.com reported

“The partnership we’ve had with Russia [for] that engine has been very important, I think, to both of us, but there are number of concerns the Air Force has and others have anytime we’re relying on such an important piece of equipment from vendors outside of the United States,” Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning said during a breakfast with reporters on Tuesday in Washington, the defense website reported.

SEE ALSO: SpaceX on the verge of spy satellites

“It’s been a solid partnership for years now,” Mr. Fanning continued. “We have enough of those engines to support launches well into 2016 but are monitoring closely any suggestions that are taking place in the current bilateral situation that might impact our supply.”

Mr. Musk put it more bluntly while speaking to the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a live video link with the International Space Station from a construction site of new cosmodrome Vostochny ( Eastern) at Eastern Siberia on Friday, April 12, 2013. Russia celebrates 52nd anniversary of the first manned space flight on April 12. Putin said on Friday Russia would continue to lease the Baikonur space complex in Kazakhstan despite recent statements from space officials that Russia may suspend its lease. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a live video link with the ... more >

“The Atlas V cannot assure access to space when it relies on President Putin’s permission to enter space,” the billionaire businessman said, Military.com reported.

On Thursday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said a “a very serious series of steps” would occur if the Crimean Peninsula, currently occupied by Russian military hardware and thousands of troops, votes to rejoin Russia. He did not get into specifics as to what those steps might be, only saying to a Senate Appropriations Committee panel that there would be “a response of some kind.”