One of the less-obvious impacts of NASA’s plan to cancel Constellation is on the US military. NASA is the largest customer for solid rocket motors (SRMs), subsidizing to a considerable degree the costs needed to produce SRMs for a variety of missiles. However, with the shuttle scheduled for retirement at the end of this year, NASA’s plans to end development of the Ares 1 and 5 rockets means it will no longer be that anchor customer. Costs for the military will thus go up, but by how much?
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), a critic of the new NASA plan, fears the military’s costs will double, as Defense News reports. However, at a hearing yesterday of the strategic forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rear Admiral Stephen E. Johnson, director of strategic systems programs for the Navy, expects a much smaller increase: on the order of 10 to 20 percent. Vitter was skeptical of that claim, wondering why the loss of the biggest customer—NASA—wouldn’t cause a bigger increase. Johnson replied that NASA’s requirements are so different than what’s needed for even ballistic missiles that it may be possible to control costs by shutting down shuttle-specific production facilities. “It’s a very valid concern. There’s no doubt costs are going to go up,” Johnson said. “I don’t think they’ll double.”