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

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department’s top acquisition official is continuing to keep close tabs on the troubled ground system for the Air Force’s next-generation GPS satellites, a complex software development program that continues to raise red flags both at the Pentagon and in Congress.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, has scheduled a review of the Operational Control Segment, or OCX, for this coming December. 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.

OCX prime contractor Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems of Reston, Virginia, 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 the company has been making progress but conceded that the final schedule and price tag for the program are yet to be determined.

Raytheon won an $886 million contract in 2010 to design the ground system that will control the GPS 3 positioning, navigation and timing satellites and provide better cyberprotection and information assurance than the current GPS ground system. The OCX system also is being 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 a restructuring in 2014 that brought the contract’s value to $1.6 billion and delayed several key milestones. The restructuring got Kendall’s attention, leading to the first program review.

Recent weeks have brought indications of continued trouble on OCX. In September, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report saying the program’s price tag has risen to roughly $2 billion.

During the Air Force Association conference here, also in September, senior service officials singled out OCX as one of the few development programs that was still struggling. Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, said he wanted to have options available in case Raytheon is unable to deliver in time for the scheduled late-2017 launch of the first GPS 3 satellite, itself more than two years behind schedule.

“I want OCX to succeed desperately,” he said. “But I also told [the acquisition community] if you see OCX not succeeding then you need to tell me that, and some of these low-level options we’re working in the background, we’ll up the priority on those. We’ll make sure we can go a different direction.”

In the latest insult, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) named OCX to his “America’s Most Wasted” list of over budget defense programs.

In an email to SpaceNews, Pentagon spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said Kendall’s “office recognized at the February 2015 Deep Dive that OCX still needed DoD attention to determine if recent actions have checked negative trends. A second Deep Dive has been scheduled for December and will be significant for defining OCX’s path forward.”

In an Oct. 21 interview, Gilligan said the upcoming review is a follow-up to the previous one and had been expected.

According to Gilligan, the program has made progress since the Kendall review earlier this year. This includes the Air Force designating both the systems engineering baseline and information assurance design as low risk. In addition, Raytheon has made progress on the pre-qualification and risk reduction testing for part of the software developed for the program thus far.

Raytheon has made progress in all three areas, Gilligan said. He conceded, however, that new cost and schedule targets for the OCX program would not be ready until the upcoming review is completed.

The first OCX software package, known as Block 0 and intended to handle GPS 3 satellite launch and on-orbit checkout, will not be delivered in 2016, Gilligan said.

Delays on the GPS 3 space segment, being developed by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, have given Raytheon some breathing room on the ground system.

Nonetheless, the Air Force earlier this year said it would negotiate with 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.