COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.–Craig Cooning is confident the Air Force will invest in the development of United Launch Alliance‘s (ULA) next-generation Vulcan rocket propulsion system, the vice chairman of ULA’s board of directors told Defense Daily Tuesday.

So far, ULA has spent only internal money on developing Vulcan, its answer for staying competitive in an increasingly contested government and commercial launch marketplace. ULA is only approving, and investing, in Vulcan on a quarterly basis and is closely monitoring the development of the rocket as well as the Blue Origin BE-4 engine and Aerojet Rocketdyne [AJRD] AR1 engine being developed to power the system. 

Craig Cooning, Boeing's head of Network & Space Systems. Photo: Boeing.
Craig Cooning, Boeing’s head of Network & Space Systems. Photo: Boeing.

For ULA to invest in Vulcan on a longer-term basis, Cooning, who is also president of Boeing‘s [BA] defense space and security network and space systems division, said he wants an approved Air Force acquisition plan and government funding for both the rocket and the rocket engine. Cooning said part of that acquisition plan is the Air Force defining selection criteria for future competitions involving medium to heavy lift launches. He said the service is currently working on this. An Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) spokesman said it was unlikely the service would be able to comment by press time Tuesday.

Cooning also wants Congress to approve an additional 18 Russian-developed RD-180 rocket engines so the company can use the Atlas V until Vulcan is ready. The RD-180 is developed in Russian by NPO Energomash and sold in the United States by RD AMROSS.

“When we see an approved acquisition plan and also a way forward with the Atlas, then the Vulcan will have a longer timeframe with regard to funding,” Cooning told reporters here at the 32nd Space Symposium.

Powerful lawmakers have been battling over not only how many RD-180s the Air Force should be allowed to use moving forward, or if at all, but over whether the Air Force should be allowed to invest in a rocket or just a rocket engine. House Armed Services Committee (HASC) strategic forces subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) is known for saying the Air Force has a rocket engine problem, as opposed to a rocket problem. A provision was inserted into the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) banning Air Force money being spent on developing or procuring a new launch vehicle or infrastructure.

ULA is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing. ULA did not respond to a request for comment by press time.