WASHINGTON — Delays on the ground segment for the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation positioning, navigation and timing satellite system could prevent the detection of technology or design bugs in the spacecraft until as many as eight are already on orbit, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester said.

In his office’s latest annual report, Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, also criticized Air Force leaders for what the report described as “inaccurate, implausible and incoherent schedules” throughout the GPS enterprise.

The GPS 3 ground system, or Operational Control Segment (OCX), is being developed by Raytheon and has encountered significant delays. This has drawn extra scrutiny from senior Pentagon officials in recent months.

The latest to weigh in is Gilmore, who said the OCX delays have pushed back GPS 3 operational testing “until after at least six, and as many as eight,” satellites have launched, according to the annual report. “This introduces significant risk that effectiveness and suitability deficiencies in GPS 3 satellites will not be discovered until it is too late to prevent their introduction to the operational constellation.”

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.

GPS 3 satellite. Credit: Lockheed Martin
GPS 3 satellite. Credit: Lockheed Martin

But the effort 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.

Gilmore’s report said the rollout of OCX’s initial core capabilities, known as Block 1, which will provide command and control of the GPS 3 and earlier-generation satellites, has been pushed from early 2016 to early 2019. Block 1 is needed to support the testing of GPS 3 satellites, Gilmore said.

In a Jan. 29 statement, Matt Gilligan, a Raytheon vice president and OCX program manager, said this would not be an issue. Gilligan said an earlier capability, known as Block 0, will support launch and on-orbit testing of the first GPS 3 satellites, and accomplish many of the goals Gilmore outlined for Block 1.

“The OCX Launch and Checkout System (LCS) will be delivered in time to support the launch, checkout, and early-orbit control of the first GPS 3 satellite, including satellite payloads,” Gilligan said. “The six-month checkout period following LCS is constructed specifically to allow time to make any needed repairs to the satellite bus, payloads or ground segment prior to Block 1.”

The Pentagon’s acquisition czar, Frank Kendall, announced in December his office is doing a deep dive into the OCX contract. In addition, the Government Accountability Office is expected to release a report on the program in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Gilmore’s report also said a strategic military satellite terminal contract is about four months behind its originally planned schedule. The Family of Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals, or FAB-T, is designed to facilitate communications between the president and strategic forces through the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency constellation of highly secure, jam-proof communications satellites.

Raytheon Network Centric Systems of McKinney, Texas, won a $298 million production contract in June for the command post terminals. In doing so, Raytheon knocked off the original prime contractor, Boeing, which had struggled on the program.

“Continued delays may be experienced due to a highly concurrent developmental test schedule,” the report said.

Peter Ramjug, a Raytheon spokesman, declined to comment.


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.