Mike Gass. Credit: Space Foundation

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Michael Gass, the former Lockheed Martin executive who has led United Launch Alliance since the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture was created in 2006, has been replaced as president and chief executive, and will retire at the end of this year, Denver-based ULA said Aug. 12.

Gass was replaced by Tory Bruno, the current president of Lockheed Martin Strategic and Missile Defense Systems. Gass is expected to stay on through the end of the year to help Bruno — whose appointment was effective immediately — with the transition.

“Tory understands the launch business as well as anyone and is well-qualified to ensure ULA keeps pace with changing customer needs and launch industry dynamics,” Craig Cooning, president of Boeing Network and Space Systems, and a ULA board member, said in an Aug. 12 statement. Cooning joined the ULA board July 1.

In a separate statement, Gass said he had planned to retire “in the near term” but with “the changing industry landscape over the next several years, the Board of Directors and I have agreed that the immediate appointment of my successor to begin the leadership transition is in the best interest of the company.”

Daniel Collins, the former Boeing launch executive who joined ULA at the same time as Gass, is staying on as ULA’s chief operating officer, according to ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye.

According to industry sources, under the original terms of the agreement to create ULA, Lockheed Martin had the right to appoint ULA’s chief executive. Boeing could veto Lockheed Martin’s appointment. By the same terms, Boeing could appoint ULA’s chief operating officer and Lockheed Martin could veto that nomination. Those rules no longer apply, the sources said. Now, the chief executive can come from either Boeing or Lockheed Martin.

The change in leadership comes as ULA fights to protect its near-monopoly in the national security launch market. Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is suing the U.S. Air Force to overturn an $11 billion block-buy contract the service gave ULA last year to build Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rocket stages for potentially dozens of national security launches.

With competitive pressure from SpaceX, ULA has faced criticism from the Air Force and Congress about its launch costs. Gass, in response, claimed more than $4 billion in savings from the most recent contract and pointed to ULA’s near-perfect launch record.

ULA has also faced questions in recent months about the future of its Atlas 5 rocket, whose core stage is powered by the Russian-made RD-180 engine. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister who oversees the space industry, has threatened to bar exports of the engine for military use.

“Mike’s track record speaks for itself: 86 successful launches in a row, including many of our nation’s most complex and critical space missions,” Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and a ULA board member, said in a prepared statement.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.