Next-Gen GPS Ground Control System in Question
A March 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the projected cost of the next-generation GPS ground-control system, known as OCX, increased by 43 percent, or $1 billion over the past year, to a total cost estimate of $3.7 billion. Design requirements for OCX call for it to support the GPS III constellation’s stringent accuracy, anti-jam, and information assurance requirements. The system is also to be backward-compatible with current GPS satellites.
Commented one knowledgeable source, “This is a very disturbing report and could spell the end for OCX. Although the GAO has some facts wrong, the basics are correct. Many of us have been pushing for an alternative, more capable, and much less costly system for years.”
Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems won a $886.4 million prime contract to develop the OCX in February 2010, with an initial delivery date of 2016.
In December 2012, Col. Bernie Gruber of the U.S. Air Force GPS Directorate wrote in the pages of GPS World what was the commonly accepted perception of and public government position on OCX:
“Along with a host of additional satellite capabilities and signals, we will correspondingly modernize our ground segment. Our Next-Generation Operational Control System (OCX) is designed to command and control our modernized secondary civil signal L2C, safety-of-life signal L5, and the internationally compatible signal L1C. . . . . . As the modernized signals become operational, users will see faster signal acquisition, enhanced reliability, and a greater operating range. The information assurance, expandability, and service-oriented architecture will afford users and operators with security and information they simply don’t have today.”
The View from 2013. The 190-page GAO report, “Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs,” states that the scope and complexity of key OCX program elements was underestimated, and characterized the situation as typical of overruns that have historically beset Pentagon space programs.
Although the report (click here for highlights and to download the full PDF) found that “The Department of Defense (DOD) 2012 portfolio of 86 major defense acquisition programs is estimated to cost a total of $1.6 trillion, reflecting decreases in both size and cost from the 2011 portfolio,” and that “Continuing a positive trend over the past four years, newer acquisition programs are demonstrating higher levels of knowledge at key decision points,” .
The next-generation GPS ground-control system, known as OCX.
Two of the 190 pages in the document specifically address OCX, which is identified as one of 19 weapons “Programs That Entered Development with Technologies Fully Mature or Nearing Maturity” and one of 14 “Programs with technologies nearing maturity at knowledge point 1 date.” OCX is given a knowledge point 1 date of November 2012.
According to the Report, “Air Force officials recently stated that, although GPS III is still maintaining an April 2014 “available for launch” date for the first satellite, the planned launch date is being moved to May 2015 in order to synchronize it with the availability of the GPS Operational Control Segment (OCX) Block 0, without which the satellites cannot be launched and checked out.”
“The program has experienced significant requirements instability and schedule delays while in technology development,” the report reads. “The contractor initially underestimated the scope and complexity of the necessary information assurance requirements which required additional personnel with the necessary expertise and increased government management.”
Changes in Specifications. In June 2012, a Raytheon executive stated that the OCX contract had been significantly modified, with the addition of a launch and checkout capability that had previously been the responsibility of Boeing, prime contractor on the GPS IIF satellites.
He also identified information assurance, a primary OCX requirement, as “a big challenge. It is very important that we protect this system against the current and evolving cyber threats because they are real and the nation can’t afford to have this system compromised.”
An Update Last Autumn. In a November 2012 conversation with GPS World defense editor Don Jewell, Raytheon VP and Program Manager for OCX Ray Kolibaba made the following remarks:
“We currently have 450 people at Raytheon working OCX, and with our subs, an additional 300 personnel. Altogether we have 750 personnel working GPS and OCX issues. This does not include the military and civilian personnel at Air Force Space Command and Space and Missile Systems Center.”
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“Basically we are nearly on cost for the OCX contract. The current contract value is $925M; the original cost estimate was $886M. We are driving forward on that and the Block 1 date or Ready to Operate (RTO) date. Right now, the customer team is working on finalizing a new enterprise schedule that will show the Program Management Directive dates. So, we don’t know the exact date the government envisions. I expect an official date either late this year or early next year. I encourage you to ask Colonel Gruber [U.S. Air Force GPS Directorate] this question, and maybe then we will also get an answer. We have given them our recommendations.
“Concerning sequestration, I am not worried. I believe we have a reasonable level of support from Congress to maintain and continue OCX. That doesn’t mean something won’t change. Our Washington folks tell us that OCX appears to be on solid footing. The Air Force FY13 Research, Development, Test & Evaluation budget request for OCX, to include Raytheon, support contractors, the GPS Directorate, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers and the like, was $371.6M, and the Continuing Resolution amount was $369.4M — given the current budget environment, that is strong Congressional support.”
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“Successful completion of OCX will make a huge difference on a number of fronts. For instance, even though the FAA and DOT don’t have a whole lot of funding to ante up, we are going to make a difference in how they operate in the future. Some actions are transparent, but not all, as we implement their requirements and as we move forward with OCX.
“The sooner we implement the true capabilities of GPS on airliners and stop adhering only to the fixed air routes, the sooner we will start saving time and money with a vastly more efficient and flexible air routing system.
“So, from the civil side, there is certainly a difference, and when we bring other signals in they will be key for us, such as L2C, L5, and L1C. We have the solutions to do that with our receivers at this point in time, and I think it is fairly low-risk. Indeed that is probably another of my unofficial milestones.
“[On] the navigation side, GPS accuracy will noticeably improve, and we will use a new Kalman Filter. We are working the new Kalman filter with ITT Exelis and JPL to enhance capabilities. Couple that with better information assurance, increased integrity and predictability, along with system safety, and you have many of the key differences in the OCS system going forward.
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“We are required to support 40 PRNs at a minimum, with growth potential to 63 PRNs, and we may be able to support more. I’m not sure there is a limit on the system as such.”
In April of this year, Don Jewell wrote in his Defense PNT e-newsletter column:
“Most readers [of the report] won’t take the time to [dig deep] and will assume that the OCX program is grossly over budget. It is not. In fact, to reach that extraordinary number, OCX cost overruns would need to have grown by 43 percent for each year since it was awarded, and that is ludicrous. According to Raytheon VP and OCX Program Manager Ray Kolibaba, the $3.695 billion number probably comes from including “…programmatic costs beyond OCX development costs and pessimistic projections from the government” that in my experience no acquisition agency, nor Congress for that matter, would ever include when determining true program cost adherence parameters.
Jewell makes the further point that OCX has grown in scope and schedule due in part to government change requests, mainly in the cyber and information assurance areas.
Where It Stands Now. Notwithstanding the optimism of the Raytheon OCX program manager six months ago, it is reasonable to expect that the GAO estimate of increased cost has drawn Congressional attention, and that in the current fiscal climate, the entire program may once again be imperiled.