SpaceX / ULA Fight Moves to DEFCON 2

The battle over the USAF Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program took a new turn Thursday evening with a blistering series of tweets from Elon Musk, made in response to a report regarding a contracting official deeply involved in the award.

The story, linked to in the Musk tweet says in part:

“From March 2011 to January of this year, Roger “Scott” Correll (in photo) was the official at the Pentagon responsible for procuring launch services from private companies. One of his last official acts before his “retirement” in January was to oversee a deal with a company called United Launch Alliance (ULA) for a whopping 36 future launches. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed.

This month, Correll popped up with a new job with Aerojet Rocketdyne, which just happens to supply rocket engines to ULA. His title is Vice President for Government Acquisition and Policy, seemingly more than befitting of his role.”

Then came the tweets:

The article and the tweets can speak for themselves, and no doubt they will. There are however a couple of points which should help put the issue into context. Whether or not there is any substance to the suggestion or not, and at the very least the optics look simply awful, the fact remains that the EELV program as it is structured today is a result of two events which also highlight the relationship between defense contractors and the U.S. government.

The first of course, was the document theft scandal in which two ex Lockheed Martin employees who jumped ship to Boeing were accused of bringing some 25,000 pages of proprietary documents related to the Atlas V with them. This was in turn magnified by the much larger bid rigging scandal involving Darleen Druyun which is referenced in the article which set off Elon Musk.

Second, and perhaps more important is the fact that the individual who made the final decision regarding Boeing’s punishment in the EELV program was then Undersecretary of the Air Force Peter B. Teets, who was a former president of Lockheed Martin. The decision, a cancellation of existing launch contracts for the Boeing Delta IV, and immediate re-assignment to Lockheed Martin and the Atlas V was hugely beneficial to the latter, and helped push the U.S. much further along the path of dependence on a Russian main engine.

It also helped set the stage for what some have termed the “unholy alliance” between Boeing and Lockheed Martin in forming ULA, eliminating any competition for launch awards and re-writing the guidelines of the program. Teets it should be noted, is well respected, and there seems to have been very little sense that someone else should have been making the decision, but that too is instructive. The relationship between government agencies and government contractors is so close, that sometimes very little light gets between them.

Is it any wonder then, that Mr. Correll’s sudden arrival at Aerojet-Rocketdyne, which supplies both engines for the Delta IV, the upper stage engine for the Atlas V and has a partial interest in RD-Amross, the company which imports the RD-180,  should have raised a few eyebrows?

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2 Comments on "SpaceX / ULA Fight Moves to DEFCON 2"

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  1. George Walton says:

    Could you provide a link to the article?

  2. George Walton says:

    Oops. My miss.

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