Space News — February 22, 2016

by Mike Gruss

WASHINGTON – Pentagon leaders say a new ground system for the next-generation of GPS satellites, one that has stymied Air Force officials and led to expensive cost overruns, is the Defense Department’s most troubled acquisition program.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, said during a Feb. 19 breakfast here that the Pentagon continues to keep its options open for completing the Operational Control Segment, or OCX, program. That system is expected to be operational no earlier than 2021.

“The GPS OCX system is the No. 1 troubled program within the Department of Defense,” Greaves said. “I’ve heard that from my boss and my boss’s boss and it’s a very, very, very important program to the future.”

Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services of Dulles, Virginia is the prime contractor for the OCX program. While Air Force leaders acknowledge the system will have unprecedented information assurance protection, the program has struggled with continuing technical difficulties. In December, the Air Force said OCX needs at least two additional years of work.

The delay has been a sore point for service leaders, who say that because of the lag they will be unable to immediately leverage the full capabilities of the GPS 3 satellites, which include better accuracy and higher-power signals and could launch as early as next year.

Faced with this uncertainty, the Defense Department has maintained it is leaving its options open for how to proceed on OCX.

Earlier this month, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $96 million contract modification to adapt its existing ground system to serve as a stop-gap measure until the Raytheon system is ready. Greaves described that step as “an insurance policy” but noted that the Lockheed Martin system would not offer the same kind of information assurance OCX is expected to provide.

Further contract awards or competitions also remain a possibility.

On Dec. 2, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition czar, said holding a new competition for all or part of the program was a possibility.

Read More