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GPS OCX Program Being Restructured as Budget Pressures Mount

Industry Day set as Air Force weighs new GPS Block III satellite contractor.

June 30, 2014

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In response to the ongoing federal budget squeeze, the U.S. Air Force is restructuring the contract for developing its new GPS ground system, a move that could further delay its completion.

The Air Force has asked Raytheon, its contractor for the Next-Generation Operational Control System (OCX), to develop an alternative plan in light of fiscal limitations.

“The current baseline approach is unaffordable” given the funding constraints and “appears to be a much higher risk,” said Steve Moran, the director of GPS Mission Solutions at Raytheon.

The new plan will “achieve a higher confidence schedule at a lower or equal cost,” he told Inside GNSS, and will fit within a profile that is affordable and takes the restrictions of budgetary “sequestration” into account.

This is not the first time the program has been recast. Raytheon won the six-year, $1.5-billion contract in 2010 only to have it restructured two years later in an effort to shave some $100 million off the cost. While some capabilities were dropped during that process, other work ballooned over time — specifically the effort needed to address information assurance (IA) mandates that help protect the system from, and make it more resilient to, cyber attacks. <>

Although OCX’s approach to IA may end up setting a new standard for government systems, it has added complexity to what was already an ambitious program. Under OCX all the existing hardware and software at 17 monitoring stations scattered around the globe will be replaced. Managers also will “refresh” the equipment at the GPS Master Control Station (MCS) at Schriever Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the Alternate Master Control Station at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, Calif.

Even so, OCX has taken budget hits every year, unlike the rest of the Defense Department’s GPS programs, which — until this year — have gotten nearly every dollar requested from Congress. The direct and repeated budget cuts, plus additional shortfalls in promised civil funding from the Department of Transportation, much of it intended to support OCX, presaged more delays.

Raytheon’s new approach, Moran said, will be to reduce concurrent systems engineering and development while minimizing rework as much as feasible. The revised plan will also establish “clear bench marks and milestones for progress,” he said, and address “the development challenges and issues experience to date.”

Although OCX is essential to operating the new GPS Block III satellites, delays in the new ground system may be less problematic now because GPS III also has been delayed. The first satellite launch, which was pushed back to 2015 a couple of years ago, now will not take place until after the first satellite is delivered in fiscal year 2016, according to Air Force officials. Moreover, the Pentagon is slowing the speed at which it plans to buy spacecraft and has dropped funding for a new dual-launch capability that could have put two or more spacecraft into orbit at a time.

“The issue there was the satellites lasted longer than we expected,” said Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, the Air Force’s director of space programs told reporters in March. “The GPS program procurement rate was a little bit faster than we needed, (and) we were under pretty strong budget pressure for options. And so, while we would probably have a more efficient buy profile if we bought them at the rate we had planned, we decided we could delay that purchase rate, and still meet the requirements for the on-orbit constellation.”

Budget pressures may be at the heart of another sharp turn in the GPS III program early this month when Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) released a “sources sought” request for expressions of interest from companies able to replace GPS III prime contractor Lockheed Martin as the builder of the last 22 GPS III satellites. The move opens the door to GPS IIF prime contractor Boeing, as well as others, to capture a portion of the GPS III contract. It may also be a path for the Air Force to force Lockheed Martin to renegotiate its price for building the satellites.

But it may not be strictly about money. Defense officials have been unhappy with problems with the GPS Block III navigation payload being developed by Exelis. In fact demonstrations of key subsystems, including a digital navigation waveform generator, are among the first orders of business for winners of Phase 1 of the new contract.

AFSPC intends to award up to two contracts worth up to $200 million in FY15 for companies to conduct space vehicle and navigation payload design reviews and demonstrate their technology — all within specified schedule constraints. One or both of the new contractors will then go head to head with Lockheed and Exelis for a contract to build the space vehicles with the first spacecraft to be ready for launch by the first quarter FY23.

AFSPC does seem to be in a hurry. The “sources sought” announcement was published June 4 with a deadline of June 19. On June 27 it announced an industry day to be held at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., less than two weeks later on July 9. Those interested in attending must respond by July 2.

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