U.S. Air Force Hedging Against Further GPS 3 Ground Segment Delays

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is growing increasingly concerned that the $1.6 billion ground system for its next-generation GPS satellites will not be ready when needed and is putting a backup plan in motion.

In a notice of contract action posted Feb. 11 on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the Air Force said it will purchase a temporary ground system capability for its GPS 3 satellites if delays on the system currently being developed by Raytheon continue. Specifically, the service is worried about its ability to integrate the first GPS 3 satellite, scheduled to launch in 2016, into the existing constellation.

Under the contingency plan, the Air Force would negotiate with GPS 3 prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver to modify the existing GPS ground system to work with the next-generation satellites. The Air Force said it believes Lockheed Martin is the only company capable of performing the work, but the notice nonetheless solicited responses from other companies that believe they can do the job.

Raytheon is building the Operational Control System, or OCX, for the next-generation of GPS satellites. Credit: Screen capture from Raytheon OCX video
Raytheon is building the OCX for the GPS 3 system. Credit: Raytheon video capture

The announcement is the latest development in the saga of the GPS 3 Operational Control Segment, or OCX, program.

Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services of Dulles, Virginia, was awarded an $886 million contract in 2010 to design the OCX, which will control the GPS 3 satellites and provide better cyberprotection and information assurance than the current GPS ground system. The new system also is being designed to automate various functions, an important feature as the Air Force considers scaling back its corps of satellite operators.

But Raytheon has encountered numerous technical issues and delays, leading the Air Force to restructure the contract last year. The new deal, which includes additional requirements and delays several program elements, in some cases by nearly two years, is worth about $1.6 billion, with about $700 million of that total attributable to cost overruns, the Air Force said.

Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Credit: DoD/Glenn Fawcett
The Pentagon’s acquisition czar, Frank Kendall, announced in December his office would conduct a deep dive into the OCX contract. Credit: DoD/Glenn Fawcett

The Pentagon’s acquisition czar, Frank Kendall, announced in December his office would conduct a deep dive into the OCX contract. That effort was completed the week of Feb. 2, according to Defense Department spokeswoman Maureen Schumann, who declined to provide any additional information.

In a recent report, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester said delays on OCX could hamper the detection of technology or design bugs in the GPS 3 spacecraft until as many as eight are on orbit.
The Government Accountability Office, meanwhile, is expected to release a report on the program in the coming weeks.

Raytheon’s OCX program manager, Matt Gilligan, said via email Feb. 13 that Raytheon is “confident [it] will deliver OCX to meet GPS enterprise needs.”

In its Feb. 11 posting, the Air Force said it was worried it would not have a system to handle the GPS 3 satellites’ primary positioning, navigation and timing functions. Those functions include compiling, formatting, generating, encrypting and uploading data to the satellites.

Delays to OCX also hinder the Air Force’s ability to monitor navigation messages in the GPS 3 signal. With tweaks from Lockheed, the current system could handle those tasks.
Lockheed Martin would not have to modify the existing system to handle launch and on-orbit checkout of the initial GPS 3 satellites, the posting said. Raytheon is expected to deliver that part of the OCX system on schedule, the notice said.