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Cost of Modernized GPS Ground Control System Soars by $3.4 Billion

U.S. Army paratroopers compare their wrist units equipped with global positioning during a foot patrol in Afghanistan's southern Ghazni province, May 8, 2012.

U.S. Army paratroopers compare their wrist units equipped with global positioning during a foot patrol in Afghanistan's southern Ghazni province, May 8, 2012. // Defense Department

The cost of a modernized ground control system for Global Positioning System satellites has increased $3.4 billion above its original $1.4 billion price tag, the Pentagon reported. Meanwhile, delays in development of the ground control system pushed back the launch of GPS III satellites with enhanced encryption and new civil navigation signals by more than a year.

The Defense Department added the GPS Next Generation Operational Control System to its annual Selected Acquisition Report released last Thursday, which summarizes the latest estimates of cost, schedule and performance status for key military programs.

The report did not detail the reasons for the cost increase to the GPS Operational Control System, which Raytheon Co. has been developing since February 2010, when it won an initial contract valued at $888.4 million.

Maj. Eric Badger, an Air Force spokesman, explained the $3.4 billion cost for the GPS ground control system as an accounting exercise.

He said that initial costs for the project were based on program office estimates while the $3.4 billion reflects Pentagon Milestone B approval for engineering and development in October 2012. He said that figure establishes a baseline for the program that will be the point from which future changes will be measured.

Cristina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, called the next generation ground segment project “problematic from the start,” as the Air Force spent close to $1 billion before it received Pentagon approval to start engineering and development. Art Gallegos, assistant director of acquisition and sourcing management at GAO, said the Air Force attributed cost increases to changing information assurance requirements imposed on the ground system by the National Security Agency.

Kevin Ramundo, vice president of communications for Raytheon, said the current value of the company’s contact is $969 million, “which now includes scope beyond the original contract such as launch and check-out capability, tech baseline, and special studies. The Select Acquisition Report numbers include costs that go far beyond the scope of our contract.”

The GPS ground control system consists of a Master Control Station at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colo., which generates and uploads navigation messages and ensures the health and accuracy of the GPS constellation, and 16 global monitoring sites. The major sites are located at Kwajalein Atoll; Ascension Island; Diego Garcia Island; and Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Development of the Next Generation Operational Control System stands out as a software intensive project, GAO reported on March 18, with the software developed in blocks. GAO said that the first block of software, which enables command and control of GPS II satellites currently in orbit and the new GPS III satellites, is halfway completed “but the complexity of the software development effort has proven challenging.”

This first block of software -- Block 0 -- will support launch and checkout of GPS III satellites. Due to development delays, GAO said the planned launch date of the first GPS III satellite, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., was pushed from April 2014 until May 2015.

GAO reported that Raytheon “initially underestimated the scope and complexity of the necessary information assurance requirements, which required additional personnel with the necessary expertise and increased government management.”

Block 1 software, GAO said, “must be operational to command and control GPS III satellites on orbit, control legacy GPS civil signals and satellites, and operate precise military signals.” GAO reported that Block 1 software was “scheduled to become operational by October 2016, about 17 months after the first planned GPS III satellite launch; however, the most recent independent program assessment estimated mid- to-late fiscal year 2017 for operations to begin.”

Ray Kolibaba, Raytheon vice president in charge of the GPS ground system program, told a GPS conference at Stanford University in November 2012 that the Block 2 software, which will support a new, encrypted military signal and a new high powered civil signal, will not be ready for use until October 2016.

GAO warned that development of the new GPS ground control segment and planned launches of GPS III satellites are inexorably intertwined with the development of the ground system.

“Aligning the schedules of the GPS [ground system] and the GPS III satellite is a considerable risk for the program. According to Air Force officials, the first GPS III satellite launch date was rescheduled for May 2015 to align with the delivery of Block 0. Any delays to Block 0 would further delay the launch given that the current ground control segment is not capable of supporting GPS III,” GAO warned.

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