WASHINGTON — A troubled ground control system for the Air Force’s Global Positioning System satellites is already five years behind schedule and will likely be delayed further, says a new report by the Government Accountability Office released May 21.
The next-generation operational control system for the GPS 3 constellation, known as OCX, is being developed by Raytheon. Since 2012, the schedule has more than doubled and the costs have grown by approximately 68 percent, according to GAO. OCX was restructured in 2016 following difficulties implementing cybersecurity due to its complexity.
The OCX program is a software development effort to replace the current operational control system (OCS) with a modernized and more secure system. OCS lacks cybersecurity protections and is not compatible with some of the new features of the three latest generations of GPS satellites now in orbit, including the military M-code and three new civilian signals.
Under the latest agreement with the Air Force, Raytheon must deliver a complete system by June 2021 but GAO is casting doubt on the contractor’s ability to meet that deadline. “Raytheon has already used most of the extra time built into its schedule, leaving little room to fix any problems that may arise,” wrote Cristina Chaplain, GAO’s director of contracting and national security acquisitions.
In the report, Chaplain recommends another independent review of the OCX plan and schedule. She warns that the development is projected to take approximately five more years and cost at least $2.5 billion more than originally estimated.
In a statement to SpaceNews, Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business, rejects GAO’s analysis. “The GAO assessment was never discussed with Raytheon, and their findings are inaccurate,” he said. “From what we can tell, the assessment was likely based upon partial and stale information. We’ve met all of our program milestones and, importantly, held both schedule and cost performance objectives since September 2017. We will deliver the full system by our June 2021 contractual deadline.”
The Air Force disagrees with GAO’s call for an independent review of the OCX schedule. Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in a May 2 letter to GAO, which was published in the report, that OCX also has undergone multiple reviews and continues to be closely watched by the Pentagon. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord approved the new baseline in Sept. 2018. The DoD office of Cost Assessment and Program evaluation did an independent evaluation leading up to the Sept. recertification. CAPE and the Defense Contract Management Agency continue to assess the program, said Bunch. Lord and Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy meet twice a year to review OCX, and the next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 28.
The Air Force over the past decade has spent about $5.5 billion on OCX. It requested $380 million in 2020 and projects the program will cost an additional $1.1 billion through 2024.
GAO says the pace of software development has improved under a more agile software development approach. But progress has been slower than expected, says the report. “Raytheon has used the majority of its schedule reserve and delayed planned staff reductions, indicating that work is not being completed as quickly as planned. In addition, the schedule assumes improvements to software defect discovery have not all come to fruition and repair rates have not been achieved.”
While Raytheon insists that the software will be ready to support GPS 3 satellites in 2021, GAO believes it is “still unknown when OCX will be ready to support the command and control of the next generation of GPS satellites.”
Raytheon delivered OCX Block 0 in September 2017. It successfully enabled the launch and initial testing of the first GPS 3 satellite launched in December 2018. Blocks 1 and 2, originally planned as separate deliveries, have been combined into a single delivery and are currently in development.
The OCX setbacks have required the Air Force to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in extra cost to upgrade OCS, the existing GPS ground control system made by Lockheed Martin. The Air Force in December announced a $462 million contract award to Lockheed Martin for upgrades that will allow the Air Force to operate the GPS 3 constellation with the existing ground system until 2025.