Nor does the Pentagon really want a fast-tracked rocket engine, says Marco Caceres, senior analyst and director of space studies at aerospace consultancy Teal Group. "The engine is the core of your rocket, and the majority of things that go wrong in a rocket have to do with the engines," he says, "You really don't want to rush this."
Moreover, the Pentagon plan intends to spread the cost of technology development out via public-private partnerships, each of which would require roughly a dozen private sector space launches each year to remain viable. That launch demand doesn't yet exist, nor does a spike in demand appear on the horizon.
All that places SpaceX in a particularly good position to take on a lot, if not all, of the military's space launches toward the end of this decade, at least until other launch technologies can be adequately matured. Barring a change in Congress's stance on RD-180 imports or some kind of mishap that jeopardizes its certification, SpaceX might not just break ULA's military launch monopoly—it may become the monopoly.
"Overall, SpaceX is starting to look very all-American and very attractive, and ULA looks weak without its Delta IV," Caceres says. "All along ULA has had its eggs in one basket, but that only works as long as you've got a monopoly."