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  SoldierMod Volume 14 - December 2014
Volume 14 Articles

Country flagGPS III Update Delays Cause USAF to Seek Alternatives

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After delays in delivery by primary GPS III contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the US Air Force is now officially shopping for alternative companies to provide the remaining 22 spacecraft designed to make up the next generation SATCOM constellation.

Photo: courtesy Lockheed Martin Space Systems.
Photo: courtesy Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

According to Space News, Lockheed Martin (LM) will honor its contract to deliver and maintain the first eight GPS III satellites, but the USAF has opened up the rest for bid.

Difficulties with the payload and navigation systems for the first batch of satellites have left LM with three space vehicles ready to fly, but without a nav payload signal to put aboard them. Subcontractor Exelis is responsible for that, and LM has pinned the delays on them. Delivery delays have prompted the Air Force to seek alternatives.

In June 2014, the USAF issued an official “sources sought” notice, for “a production-ready GPS space vehicle, equipped with an alternate payload,” in addition to the Lockheed Martin-built GPS III vehicles. The first phase of the contract would include two firm-fixed price contracts worth $100–$200 million to demonstrate a competitor to GPS III.

According to Space News, Boeing and Northrop Grumman have responded to the “sources sought” call.

The delays in delivery were caused primarily by technical problems with the navigation system on the first eight GPS III satellites, which were supplied by LM subcontractor Exelis. In an interview with the Denver Post, Chip Eschenfelder, spokesman for the Colorado based LM, said of the new bid, “It’s not a surprise. We have not delivered on the first GPS III satellites.”

However he went on to say, “This isn’t going to have any impact on any current contracts, and it won’t impact our chances on any future opportunities.”

The company has already received $1.4 billion for production of the first four satellites at its Waterton Canyon facility.

Some of the key requirements of the new solicitation are that the satellite must offer a payload alternative to the problematical one built by Exelis; the satellite must be ready to launch by 2023; and the production line must be able to turn out two to three new satellites per year.

The final contract award will be made in 2017 or 2018.

Speaking at the National Space Symposium in Colorado in June, Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, head of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), said, “Obviously we want a GPS III that does what it’s supposed to do, delivered on time, and it’s up to Lockheed to manage its subcontractors. My view is if Lockheed is not happy with their subcontractor’s nav payload, and they believe that they can get a lower risk approach to delivering a nav payload by seeking a secondary source for that, then that’s clearly a decision for them to make.”

The GPS III is the next generation of the US government’s GPS system, and will be used not only by the military, but civilian and commercial applications worldwide. It is expected to deliver three times as much accuracy, up to eight times as much power and is anticipated to provide users around the globe with significantly improved coverage in hard to reach areas than the current GPS constellation.

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