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Air Force Space Command to Release New GPS III Feasibility Solicitation

December 24, 2015

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Late yesterday (December 22, 2015) the Pentagon announced the imminent release of a new solicitation in its two-year search for a contractor to build the next tranche of GPS III satellites.

Air Force Space Command announced on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website that it would publish a request for proposals  (RFP) for a phase 1 production readiness feasibility assessment for the new GPS III spacecraft on or around January 8.

The RFP, which is to cover GPS III space vehicles 11 and beyond, will result in the award of up to three fixed-price contracts. According to the FBO announcement, “The scope of this effort includes the current GPS III SV01­–08 technical baseline with the addition of redesigned Nuclear Detonation Detection System (NDS), Search and Rescue/GPS (SAR/GPS), and Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) payloads, Unified S-Band (USB) compliance, Regional Military Protection capability and no changes to the GPS Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) or Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) interfaces.”

The feasibility-assessment solicitation will be the Air Force’s third in its effort to explore the possibility of an alternative GPS III prime contractor after problems with the navigation payload delayed the $1.46 billion program.

GPS program managers were so angry with the delays that they barred the current GPS III prime contractor Lockheed Martin and its navigation payload subcontractor Excelis from participating in the recompete contest initially announced in June 2014. Under that solicitation the Air Force was to choose up to two companies for production readiness feasibility assessments worth up to $200 million each. A winner would be selected from the two to go head-to-head with Lockheed Martin for the contract to build the next set of GPS IIIs.

Nothing happened with that effort, however, and nine months later the Air Force again announced it was seeking firms for a “recompete” of the GPS III contract. Under that solicitation, however, the Pentagon was to kick in only $6 million per contract for up to three firms. The Air Force wanted industry to “help the Government refine its market research” in light of revisions to the acquisition strategy.

The 2015 deal was a stark change from the 2014 plan where the selected firms were to complete critical design review. Under the 2015 recompete, prospective competitors had only to demonstrate that they had, or could attain, a long list of capabilities, including the ability to produce an average of two satellites a year (down from an average of two to three per year). Moreover, under the terms of the 2015 revised plan Lockheed Martin and Excelis were allowed to enter the fray. Competing companies however, were largely expected to kick in the resources needed to complete the more limited effort — a turn of events that appeared to leave most potential competitors cold, experts suggested to Inside GNSS.

It remains unclear how much of the expense the Air Force now plans to provide for the assessments in the upcoming RFP.

One person following the program closely suggested the Christmas week notice had come “out of the blue,” although, they added, it was not the first time such a GPS announcement had been made around Christmas. The expert, who spoke anonymously to be able to discuss the matter freely, said it appeared that contractor offices that would normally be buzzing with activity upon the appearance of such a heads-up were hushed this holiday week.

The December 22 announcement can be found on under Solicitation Number: FA8807-15-R-0003.

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