The U.S. Air Force awarded Raytheon a $886 million contract in 2010 to develop the next-generation GPS ground system, or GPS OXC. Credit: Raytheon graphic

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department’s top acquisition official said Dec. 2 that he would consider re-opening the competition for the ground system for the Air Force’s next-generation GPS satellites.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters at the Potomac Officers Club that the Raytheon-led Operational Control Segment, or OCX, program “is not executing where we’d like it to be,” according to a transcript of his remarks.

Kendall has scheduled a review of the system on Dec. 4 with prime contractor Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services of Dulles, Virginia. It will be Kendall’s second deep dive in a year on the program, and comes amid continued concerns about whether OCX will be ready to support the launch of the first GPS 3 satellite and its integration with the rest of the constellation.

Defense Department officials have long acknowledged that OCX was struggling, even after a 2014 restructuring of Raytheon’s prime contract, but Kendall’s comments mark the first suggestion that recompeting the program is a possibility.

“There is a range of things we could do. I don’t want to say much more than that,” Kendall said. “But if you can imagine the range of things we’d do they are probably all under consideration at this point.”

Asked specifically about a new competition, Kendall said that idea is on the table. “That’s a possibility, but you’ve got to look at where the work is…” he said. “Some of the capability is nearing completion, so it wouldn’t make any sense to walk away from that, but the bulk of the work is really — there is an open question about how we get from where we are to finishing it.”

Raytheon won an $886 million contract in 2010 to design the ground system that will control the GPS 3 satellites, slated to start launching in 2017. In addition to providing better cyberprotection and information assurance than the current GPS ground system, OCX is designed to automate various functions, which is especially important to the Air Force as it considers scaling back its corps of satellite operators.

But the company struggled from the start of the program, leading to the restructuring that brought the contract’s value to $1.6 billion and delayed several key milestones. The restructuring got Kendall’s attention.

Raytheon has said the upcoming review was scheduled when the first one was completed back in February. Matt Gilligan, Raytheon’s vice president of navigation and environmental solutions, said in October that the company has been making progress but conceded that the final schedule and price tag for the program are yet to be determined.

In a Dec. 2 statement, Gilligan said the program has a “strong foundation.”

“A number of critical corrective actions that have been implemented since late 2013 have been completed and the OCX system maturity has increased significantly,” he said. “As a result, this vitally important program is now well positioned for predictable performance and strong execution going forward. Raytheon firmly believes that GPS OCX is the best path forward to meet the country’s needs for a completely capable and cyber hardened ground control system.”

The Air Force earlier this year said it would negotiate with GPS 3 prime contractor Lockheed Martin to modify the existing GPS ground system to work with the next-generation satellites. The service has not yet made a decision on whether to use the Lockheed Martin system, industry and government officials have said.

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.