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Congress Pares GPS III Funds, Slams Air Force Space Acquisition Efforts (updated 11/28/07)

November 25, 2007
Inside GNSS, November/December 2007

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The GPS III modernization program came up short in the 2008 fiscal year (FY08) Department of Defense (DoD) appropriations bill signed into law by President Bush on November 13.

In passing H.R. 3222, Congress reduced the president’s request by $100 million to $487.23 million for the budgetary year ending next October 1.

Military GPS M-code user equipment (MUE) did better, however: gaining $63.2 million on Capitol Hill, over and above the $93.27 proposed in the administration’s budget, for a total of $156.47 million.

Things could have been worse. The Senate Appropriations Committee cut the President’s request by $150 million, down to $437.2 million. The House had only cut GPS III by $70 million.

The immediate effect on the GPS IIIA satellite acquisition, for which a contract announcement had been expected in January, is uncertain, but the GPS Wing anticipates a delay in delivery and launch of the first space vehicle. GPS IIIA is the first of three GPS III increments and is the foundation for enhancements in later blocks. New capabilities on the GPS III SVs include the new civil signal at L1 (L1C).

In response to a query from Inside GNSS, the Space and Missile Systems Center GPS Wing issued the following statement, "We are working to minimize the impact to the GPS IIIA space vehicle procurement. Both the GPS IIIA space vehicle and Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) programs share the affected program element.

"FY08 funding requirements for both programs have decreased since prime contractors were unable to expend funds as rapidly as planned due to delayed Request For Proposal releases and source selections. Regarding overall program impacts, we would expect to see the first GPS III space vehicle delivery slip by some months. We are attempting to keep the new phase of the OCX program on its current schedule to meet its next Key Decision Point in the Spring of 2009."

The Air Force will acquire eight GPS IIIA satellites in the initial competition and planned to begin launches in 2013. Competition for contracts to build eight GPS IIIB and 16 GPS IIIC satellites would follow for later increments, with each increment including more capabilities based on technical maturity.

The cutback came in the wake of widespread criticism of the U.S. Air Force’s space programs, including GPS. Last spring, the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) director of acquisition and sourcing management team, Cristina Chaplain, told a Senate Armed Services panel, DoD tended to start its programs “too early,” and space programs have historically attempted to satisfy all requirements “in a single step.”

Harsh Words from the Hill. The House and Senate appropriations committees’ defense subcommittees had similarly pointed criticism in FY08 reports released in September. In particular, the committees pointed to the fact that a contract decision was being proposed for the GPS IIIA block before the first GPS IIF satellite had been launched or, indeed, even completed final testing.

In its FY08 report the House subcommittee stated, “The present national security space acquisition system . . . is replete with cost overruns and schedule delays to the point that some observers have described space acquisition as broken.

“In almost every area of national security space, this year’s budget requests both space programs that have not yet been fielded and at the same time requests alternative, or improved programs for the same mission area.”

The assessment by the Senate counterpart subcommittee was equally harsh. “The Committee finds that the Defense Department is too eager to reach for challenging technological advances while forgoing ongoing programs. As satellites are on the verge of recovering after years of technical challenges and cost growth, the Department reduces its plan and seeks to begin new, more complex replacements for these systems that have not been launched.”

The Senate report continued, “By cutting off the current satellite programs and moving to the next generation of unproven technologies the Department of Defense puts at risk communications, positioning, precision timing, and navigation and missile warning.”

“In fiscal year 2007, the [GPS] IIF program was curtailed from 15 to 12 satellites after experiencing technical and cost challenges and will be replaced by GPS earlier than originally planned. While GPS IIII promises to bring additional capability to the warfighter with an incremental upgrade approach, it will require the development of a completely new satellite with unknown costs. . . .”

The Senate committee argued that the request for GPS III is “premature” based on the current schedule of the modernized Block IIR (IIR-M) launches, the GPS IIF procurement and launch schedule, and “the capability of the current GPS constellation to last longer than its original design life.”

SMC's Perspective. In a September 19 press conference, Lt. General Mike Hamel, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Force Base (LAAFB), California, acknowledged the lapses that had occurred in military space programs in recent years.

An acquisition reform methodology known as Total System Performance Responsibility or TSPR sought to shift the onus for delivering complex systems within specifications and on time to a single primary contractor. TSPR dispensed with the intensive day-to-day involvement of Air Force engineers and program managers that had marked previous space programs, leading to extensive cutback in USAF engineering staff.

Although the idea of a far-reaching contract under a single prime contractor held a certain logic, critics say that the practical result was to give companies responsibilities in areas outside their core competencies. Now the Air Force is trying to remedy that situation.

“We are rebuilding the space acquisition and development workforce that we lost during the aftermath of the Cold War,” Hamel said.

According to Col. David Madden, commander of the GPS Wing at LAAFB in charge of GPS acquisition, about 300 engineers are involved in the GPS program at SMC, including Air Force personnel and those from long-term contracts with Aerospace Corporation and MITRE Corporation, two federally funded R&D organizations.

Regarding the GPS Block IIF program— which has suffered from technical difficulties, funding uncertainty, contract changes, and program management changes of direction — Hamel said, “We are working very hard to put rigor and mission assurance back into the program.”

As for Block III, he added, “In the last two-three years, we have been applying all the right rigor in design details, program management, and cost estimating, notwithstanding all the problems we’ve had in the past.”
Launch of the first Block IIF satellite, now undergoing final acceptance testing at SMC, has been pushed back to the last half of 2008.

In a recent interview with Inside GNSS, John Duddy, GPS programs director for the IIF prime contractor Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, gave his own interpretation of the Air Force’s “back to basics” mantra. “As we get down to the first IIF launch, there’s a very rigorous, intense mission assurance with a gated process. You’re not getting through the gate until you have all of [the details worked out].”

Optional Support for Civil Needs. H.R. 3222 did include language that provides the DoD the option of paying for civil GPS improvements out of defense appropriations in FY08: “Funds available to the Department of Defense for the Global Positioning System during the current fiscal year may be used to fund civil requirements associated with the satellite and ground control segments of such system’s modernization program.”

That language recognizes the requirement in President' Bush's 2004 National Security Directive on Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Policy that future civil requirements beginning with the GPS III program would have to be funded out of civil agency budgets. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) FY08 budget still being deliberated by Congress has $7.2 million for such capabilities, including the new civil signal on L1 (L1C), and additional DoT funds are anticipated in the FY09 President's budget that goes to the Congress on Feb 1, 2008.

The H.R. 3222 language would still allow DoD to expend DoD funds on civil capabilities if, in fact, the DoT funding does not cover the full civil cost, which may well occur because the final numbers for the GPS IIIA satellite contracts, slated to be awarded early next year, are not available. Once it is awarded, civil GPS leaders will have to work with the selected OCX and GPS IIIA contractors to get a more definitive cost estimate for the civil unique capabilities.

Given that such cost estimates rarely go down, if the civil share does go up, the congressional language authorizes the Pentagon to proceed with DoD funds, pending a decision on additional civil funding.

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