Caption: U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command Credit: U.S. Army National Guard/Staff Sgt. Adam Fischman

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force will be unable to immediately leverage the full capabilities of its next-generation GPS 3 positioning, navigation and timing satellites after the service said the associated ground system faces continuing technical difficulties and needs at least two additional years of work.

The two-year delay on the Operational Control Segment, or OCX, was confirmed by the U.S. Air Force Dec. 8. Earlier that day, Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, called the  program “a disaster.”

Just days earlier, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, met with senior officials from OCX prime contractor Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services of Reston, Virginia, for the second deep-dive review of the long-troubled program this year.

“During the meeting, current program execution, estimate to completion, and actions needed to complete the program more efficiently were reviewed,” Air Force Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli, a spokeswoman for the service, said in a Dec. 8 email. “It was acknowledged that the current estimate for completion of the development program will extend an additional two years.”

That delay means the program would be operational in 2021, an Air Force officials said.

The first GPS 3 satellites, expected to have better accuracy and higher-power signals than the current generation of GPS craft, are expected to begin launching as early 2017.

But like a lot of satellite programs, the system’s most advanced capabilities are dependent on the ground infrastructure. OCX is expected to offer improved information assurance and cyberprotection while automating various GPS 3 satellite operating functions.

Raytheon won the OCX prime contract in 2010 and has struggled on the program ever since. The program was restructured in 2014, nearly doubling the contract value, to around $1.6 billion, and delaying key milestones.

But Raytheon has continued to have problems, prompting Kendall’s first program review this past February. On Dec. 2, two days before his follow-up review, Kendall said he could not rule out recompeting certain elements of the program.

An April report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the OCX program’s cost ultimately would exceed $2 billion. The Air Force is currently calculating a new cost estimate, the service said in a Dec 8 statement.

Hyten, speaking at a breakfast at the Mitchell Institute here, pulled no punches in assessing OCX. “The OCX program is a disaster, just a disaster, and it’s embarrassing to have to stand in front of people and try to defend it, so I won’t,” he said.

Without OCX, the GPS 3 satellites will  deliver essentially the same level of service as the current-generation of GPS 2F satellites, Hyten said.

Raytheon officials declined to answer specific questions about the latest delay. In a Dec. 9 statement, Matt Gilligan, the company’s vice president, for navigation and environmental solutions, said, “Raytheon is focused on continued development of the modernized, cyber-hardened GPS OCX. We are fully committed to delivering, without compromise, the modernized GPS ground controls envisioned and required by the Air Force.”

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.