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SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

In its new annual report, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation credits the Air Force for making progress modernizing the Global Positioning System constellation, but warns that the disjointed management of the GPS enterprise of satellites, ground systems and user equipment continues to plague the program.

Director of Operational Test & Evaluation Robert Behler released his annual report for fiscal year 2018, which includes 232 major defense acquisition programs. Behler’s office was created by Congress in 1983 to provide an independent assessment of the performance of major weapon systems.

The report cautions that the Air Force is not able to properly test the resilience of its new GPS 3 satellites against potential threats. The satellites should be tested against on-orbit threats with “operationally representative test articles and simulators,” the report says. The GPS 3 program “lacks sufficient test resources for realistic operational space segment threat testing.”

A running theme in Belhler’s assessment is the lack of integration and coordination across the space, ground and user equipment segments.  Troubles and delays to the ground control system means the Air Force is not able to adequately test the full capabilities of GPS 3 satellites before they are procured and incorporated into the operational constellation. GPS user receivers continue to face challenges and are years behind schedule.

Another chronically troubled program watched by DOT&E is the space command-and-control system known as JMS, short for Joint Space Operations Center Mission System.

The Air Force is developing JMS to process, integrate, store and present space situational awareness sensor data. The program has been restructured over the years but continues to experience delays and technical setbacks. According to the DOT&E report, JMS will not be ready to support Space Fence operations. Now under construction at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the Space Fence will have powerful sensors to improve the identification and tracking of objects in space.

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...