The Defense Department will spend at least $2.5 billion through fiscal 2021 to support the 700 weapons systems that will rely on the next generation of GPS satellites, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
The new satellites, known as GPS III, feature an advanced signal that make it harder to jam and more difficult to spoof. That signal is called M-code, or military code. But for weapon systems - includes ships, aircraft, ground vehicles, missiles, munitions, and hand-held devices ― to take advantage of those capabilities they need an updated GPS receiver card.
“While the full cost remains unknown, it is likely to be many billions of dollars greater than the $2.5 billion identified through fiscal year 2021 because there is significant work remaining to verify the initial cards work as planned and to develop them further,” the report said.
The problem cascades from the upper echelons of the Air Force, where GPS III is facing acquisition hurdles, including technical risks and schedule pressure, the GAO reported. The watchdog agency has said transitioning all DOD platforms to the next generation of receiver cards is expected to take more than a decade
“DoD has begun initial planning for some weapon systems, but more remains to be done to understand the cost and schedule needed to transition to M-code receivers,” the report read. “The preliminary estimate for integrating and testing a fraction of the weapon systems that need the receiver cards is over $2.5 billion through fiscal year 2021 with only 28 fully and 72 partially funded.”
The Air Force is charged with developing the initial receiver cards – which will require close coordination across the military – and the effort will become increasingly complex and sweeping as individual weapons systems program offices begin lower-level development and testing of their own.
The Defense Department plans to test the new cards on the Army’s Stryker ground combat vehicle, the Air Force’s B-2 Spirit bomber, the Marine Corps’ Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Navy’s DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyer
This issue is further hampered by a lack of coordination across program offices, the GAO found.
“DoD does not have an organization assigned to collect test data, lessons learned, and design solutions so that common design solutions are employed to avoid duplication of effort as multiple entities separately mature receiver cards,” the report noted. “DoD therefore risks paying to repeatedly find design solutions to solve common problems because each program office is likely to undertake its own uncoordinated development effort.”