Raytheon's work on a new ground control system for GPS 3 satellites has been delayed by several years and faces additional scrutiny from the Pentagon. | Credit: Raytheon

COLORADO SPRINGS – Raytheon’s long-embattled ground control system for GPS is back on track following a government contract breach last year that prompted the U.S. Air Force to work with the company to revise the program’s budget and schedule, the program manager said.

“What we’ve seen through the execution of the program in the 2016 time frame up to now, through the first quarter of 2017, is that the milestones we established at the beginning of 2016, we hit every milestone,” said Bill Sullivan, Raytheon’s OCX vice president and program manager.

The company worked to implement “a series of corrective actions” throughout 2015 and 2016 to get the long-delayed program on a firm timeframe for completion.

“Those corrective actions included a lot of different things like making sure your system engineering is completely defined before you write code, adding automation into your system to facilitate going faster in your coding and your testing,” Sullivan said. “From our perspective, the corrective actions that have been put in place are working.”

Raytheon completed a re-baselining on OCX in March in cooperation with the Air Force, setting up a new timeline for completion. Current delivery for the full system is planned for December 2020.

A subset of OCX, the Launch and Checkout System for GPS satellites, is currently undergoing testing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Raytheon expects to complete testing and deliver the system by late September or early October.

The Next Generation Operational Control Segment, better known by the acronym OCX, was envisioned as an advanced ground control system for GPS, eventually replacing control systems for the entire constellation including the newest GPS 3 satellites.

However, long delays and major cost overruns have prompted harsh words from Congress and Air Force leaders who are unhappy the OCX problems are pushing back full deployment of GPS 3 capabilities. In 2015, Gen. John Hyten, then-leader of Air Force Space Command, called OCX “a disaster” and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) listed it as one of America’s most wasteful programs.

On June 30, 2016, the Defense Department declared a Nunn-McCurdy breach for the program, a serious contracting violating that indicates costs have grown more than 25 percent over projections. Nunn-McCurdy breaches expose contracts to possible cancellation.

On Oct. 12, however, Frank Kendall, who at the time was the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, approved plans for Raytheon to continue OCX work, saying that after reviewing the program he was satisfied it was back on track.

Sullivan declined to discuss the current financial state of the contract. A March 2016 Defense Department report estimates that the total OCX effort will cost about $4.2 billion.

Several new efforts have sped development of the program, including the use of cloud-computing for testing non-classified parts of the system. As a result, Raytheon did not need to acquire and maintain large dedicated data servers, Sullivan said.

Raytheon also implemented an increasingly common practice in computer programming known as “development operations,” which focuses on adding more automation into coding and testing, and breaks coding down into units rather than focusing on the need to finish the complete system all at once, Sullivan said.

While some sections of code previously took two weeks to complete, now that time is down to just three hours, he said.

The idea to implement ‘dev ops’ came from Air Force Digital Services, an office the service set up to focus on cyber and digital issues.

Sullivan said coding on OCX is about 80-percent complete.

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...