GPS 3 satellite (Lockheed Martin)

WASHINGTON — An upgraded ground control system for the Global Positioning System constellation developed by Lockheed Martin has passed tests and is now being used to operate the satellites, the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center announced March 27.

That announcement came hours after SMC revealed that it has directed Raytheon to replace the computer hardware in the next-generation GPS Operational Control System (OCX) that the company is developing to replace the Lockheed-developed system. OCX was built with a line of IBM computers that was sold years ago to a Chinese company and for security reasons has to be replaced.

Until OCX is delivered and deployed, the Space Force will use the ground system known as Contingency Operations, or COps. Lockheed Martin received a $462 million contract in December 2018 to add more cybersecurity and maintain the COps system until 2025.

With the COps system now in operation, the Space Force will begin to activate the military M-code, a secure anti-jam GPS signal that has been in the works for years. The GPS constellation of about 31 spacecraft has 21 M-code capable satellites, including the first two of the more advanced GPS 3 variant made by Lockheed Martin that are now operational. The third GPS 3 satellite is scheduled for launch in April.

“This spring, work will begin to install the components needed to command and monitor the M-code encrypted GPS signal,” Lockheed Martin said March 27 in a news release. To enable the use of the M-code, the company said it developed a software-defined receiver that is being installed at all six Space Force monitoring sites.

Hardware changes directed for OCX

In a news release on Friday, SMC said that on March 26 the OCX program office instructed Raytheon to replace the system’s IBM computers with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) hardware, and that the changes added $378 million to the cost of the program.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved the IBM x86 product line sale to Chinese-owned Lenovo in August 2014. Under the agreement, IBM had to support the hardware until August 2022. At the time of the sale, the U.S. government identified this as a major impact to OCX by creating an unacceptable cyber risk.

HPE was selected as the new hardware vendor in 2017. But SMC waited to implement the hardware fix until Raytheon showed improved performance in delivering OCX, which is years behind schedule and has cost billions more than originally estimated.

Lt. Gen. John Thompson, SMC commander., said in a statement that Raytheon less than a year from now will deliver a “qualified software baseline capable of operating the GPS constellation.” He said Raytheon “has been executing as planned, giving us confidence in OCX’s ability to transition into operations.”

Lt. Col. Thomas Gabriele, SMC’s OCX materiel leader, said the government-directed hardware change will “impact the Raytheon schedule.” He said the government is “holding Raytheon accountable to deliver qualified software prior to integrating on the HPE platform and deploying to operational sites.”

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...