Lockheed lands contract for more-secure GPS military signals

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $45.5 million contract Sept. 12 to provide an advanced military anti-jamming capability for the Global Positioning System (GPS), but questions remain about when the service will be able to deploy the capability.

The Military Code (M-Code) Early Use (MCEU) capability, the company notes, is an advanced new signal designed to improve anti-jamming and protection from spoofing, as well as increase secure access to military GPS signals for U.S. and allied armed forces.

The Air Force developed MCEU as part of an effort to mitigate problems dealing with delays in the development of the command and control system for GPS 3 satellites, known as the Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX). That system is at least five years behind schedule, Cristina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), testified May 17 before the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.

MCEU will provide command and control of M-Code capability to eight GPS 2R-M and 12 GPS 2F satellites currently on orbit, as well as future GPS 3 satellites that the Air Force expects will begin launching in 2018, Lockheed says. MCEU is envisioned as a way to accelerate M-Code’s deployment in order to support testing and fielding of modernized user equipment in support of the warfighter.

“The ‘ground’ is critical for any major space mission constellation,” said Mark Stewart, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Navigation Systems.

The Air Force’s new MCEU contract directs Lockheed Martin to upgrade the existing Architecture Evolution Plan Operational Control System to task, upload and monitor M-Code within the GPS constellation, according to the company. The contract includes new software and hardware development that will be deployed in 2019 to worldwide ground facilities that support GPS.

But the GAO warns the real capability may take longer to deploy and use.

“Initial M-code broadcast capability would not be available until the current ground system, the Operational Control System, or OCS, was modified in late-2019 at the earliest to make up for OCX delays,” Chaplain testified. “Full M-code capability — which includes both the ability to broadcast a signal via satellites and a ground system and user equipment to receive the signal — will take at least a decade once the services are able to deploy MGUE (military GPS user equipment) receivers in sufficient numbers.”

More than 11 years after launching the first M-code capable satellites, she said, the Pentagon has yet to deliver M-code capable MGUE receivers and will not have a full M-code capability “until receivers are deployed on sufficient numbers of weapons platforms and munitions to support the warfighter.”

The Pentagon, she noted, is prohibited by statute from obligating or expending funds for GPS user equipment after fiscal year 2017 unless that equipment can receive military code.

“It is still unclear when M-code capable receivers will be fielded and at what cost,” she testified.

The services may each have to conduct additional development both MGUE systems and related systems, she said. “Because of this uncertainty, the military services report that they have begun requesting waivers for the statutory requirement.”