WASHINGTON — The Air Force on Wednesday awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.3 billion contract for the first two satellites — space vehicles 11 and 12 — of the new GPS 3 version, known as GPS 3F.

This follows a Sept. 14 announcement that the Air Force intends to acquire 22 GPS 3F satellites from Lockheed Martin under a $7.2 billion fixed-price deal.

One interesting tidbit of news in the contract announcement is that Lockheed Martin was not the only bidder. “This award is the result of a competitive acquisition with one solicitation mailed and one proposal received,” said a Defense Department news release.

It is not clear who that second mystery bidder might be. The companies that had been expected to challenge Lockheed Martin for the GPS 3 award, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, confirmed in April that they did not submit proposals.

The issue came up last week at the Air Force Association’s annual symposium during a media roundtable with Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisitions Will Roper. Asked to comment about the lack of competition in the GPS program, Roper said the Air Force did not consider the deal with Lockheed a “sole-source” award.

But he would not reveal the identify of the second competitor that “mailed” a solicitation. “We don’t talk about how many bidders,” Roper said. The Air Force is satisfied that the $7.2 billion deal with Lockheed, he said, gives the government “economies of scale and efficiency.”

The contract was structured with options to buy up to 22 satellites. The price includes satellite manufacturing, space vehicle storage, and launch and on-orbit support. The work would be completed by Aug. 31, 2027. By signing the first contract before Sept. 30, the Air Force is able to obligate $10 million in research, development, test and evaluation funds from its fiscal year 2018 budget. The $1.3 billion contract includes non-recurring engineering, space vehicle test bed and simulators, as well as production of vehicles 11 and 12.

Lockheed Martin vice president Kay Sears told reporters last week that the new GPS 3F is a “brand new” satellite design and not a “carbon copy” of the GPS 3 that the company is manufacturing for the Air Force under a 2008 contract for 10 satellites. The new version has a “fully digital payload, and some added resiliency features,” Sears said.

Six GPS 3 satellites today are in various stages of manufacturing and delivery, said Sears. The first is scheduled to launch Dec. 15, with the second to follow in 2019. The four satellites that have not been manufactured yet will move through assembly and testing faster, she said. “It’s about as good a production line as we can get. “

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...