WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force now expects Raytheon to deliver the next phase of its GPS ground system overhaul at the end of this year — nine months later than the program’s previous schedule estimate.

Increments 2 and 3 of the Next-Generation Operational Control System, dubbed OCX, were supposed to be delivered in January, but technical discoveries during testing delayed the effort and caused the program to re-evaluate its schedule.

According to a June 8 Government Accountability Office report, prime contractor Raytheon’s delivery delay will push the initial capability date to next spring. A spokeswoman for Space Systems Command, the Space Force’s acquisition arm, told C4ISRNET in a June 8 email the service is awaiting approval of the new schedule.

Raytheon has incurred $123 million in additional costs as a result of the delays, SSC said, citing a Materiel Inspection and Receiving Report the company filed with the Defense Department.

The program is at risk of further delays due to “funding challenges,” GAO said. In fiscal 2023 Congress cut $75 million from OCX that was meant to be used to pay for more contractor support for Blocks 1 and 2. The service’s fiscal 2024 budget includes $200 million for the effort.

The Space Force’s constellation of GPS satellites provides navigation support to military and civilian users. It features older spacecraft as well as newer ones, and the most recent version, GPS III, is more accurate and resistant to adversary jamming attempts.

OCX was designed to operate the entire GPS fleet — old and new. The first capability increment was delivered in 2017, and brought some hardware, software and cybersecurity improvements. The system, dubbed Block 0, can support GPS III launches, but doesn’t have the ability to operate the in-orbit satellites. Blocks 2 and 3 will bring that ability along with better performance and protections against cyber threats.

Schedule uncertainty

Schedule uncertainty has been a persistent challenge for OCX, which was supposed to be fielded in 2016.

The program’s 2012 cost estimate of $3.7 billion has been revised several times, growing to $4.3 billion in 2015 and $6.2 billion in 2018. The first cost increase triggered what’s known as a Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breach, requiring the Defense Department to develop a new cost and schedule baseline in 2016.

Speaking earlier this year, Space Force acquisition executive Frank Calvelli called it one of the service’s “long-standing troubled programs.”

GAO’s report sheds some light on its most recent challenges, caused largely by “overlapping efforts” to test various satellite capabilities and integrate software.

“Because of the risk that not all requirements would be complete by delivery, the program modified the schedule to allow more time for software testing and addressing deficiencies, as well as developing technical manuals and training operators,” the report states.

To mitigate that risk, the program is honing in on critical software deficiencies and plans to award Raytheon a contract modification to address continued deficiencies, according to GAO.

Beyond testing, SSC is concerned about the strain on GPS operators during the period between system delivery later this year and initial operations next spring.

“During this time, the operators need to complete training and assist with transition activities, while controlling the GPS constellation using the existing system,” GAO said. “Space Force officials stated that they are training operators on the current system and are working with the program office to schedule events. But, they told us that they remain concerned about the ability of trained operators to support the OCX events as scheduled.”

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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