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DoD Decision Breathes New Life into Critical OCX Satellite Program

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2016 — An Air Force program that will provide a vital new command system for the global positioning system satellite constellation in the shortest time possible will continue despite cost growth, Defense Department officials confirmed today.

The next-generation operational control system, known as OCX, reached what is called a Nunn-McCurdy breach, June 30, 2016. The Nunn-McCurdy provision applies to weapons programs and requires the military services to notify Congress if a program’s cost per unit increases 25 percent or more over the current baseline estimate.

But well before June 30, defense acquisition experts began working with Raytheon, the contractor for OCX, to resolve program issues. In December 2015, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall directed in-depth quarterly reviews, including a series of “deep dives” overseen by him. Certification activities began in July 2016, and culminated with Kendall certifying the program to Congress yesterday, thus allowing the program to continue.

Next-Generation GPS

James MacStravic, acting assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, discussed OCX and its importance with DoD News.

“This is what the controllers on the ground are going to use to make sure that all the satellites are talking to each other, that they’re exchanging the same information [and] that they’re where they’re supposed to be,” he said.

The OCX system will command all modernized and legacy GPS satellites, manage all civil and military navigation signals and provide improved cybersecurity and resilience for the next generation of GPS operations.

The OCX program includes the following phases: Block 0, to perform launch and checkout of GPS-III satellites; Block 1, to command all navigation signals, including the modernized military signal; and Block 2, for additional enhancements to signal assurance and navigation warfare capabilities. The ground segment capability not only supports military forces, but also civil, commercial and scientific uses. The current total program cost estimate for OCX is $5.46 billion.

OCX will consist of:

-- A master control station and alternate master control station;

-- Dedicated monitor stations;

-- Ground antennas;

-- GPS system simulator; and

-- Standardized space trainer

Turning the Program Around

Defense officials said factors in the OCX cost growth included late recognition of the magnitude of information assurance work that was required, concurrent systems engineering that drove significant rework, inconsistent configuration management of the program baselines, immature software and a lack of automation across the program. These issues drove schedule slips, which in turn increased the cost of the program, leading to the breach.

MacStravic described the efforts defense officials and Raytheon have made to turn the program around. He emphasized the work has included the personal involvement of Kendall, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Raytheon’s chief executive officer.

“What we spent the summer doing was making sure … does this program have the right management resources, the right financial resources and an appropriate schedule to succeed?” MacStravic said.

Officials report that after three on-site quarterly reviews, Kendall’s assessment is that Raytheon is making substantial progress on the program, but that some additional schedule increase has occurred and that there is risk of more schedule increases.

Progress has been sufficient to support certification under the Nunn-McCurdy process, officials said. Kendall’s office will continue the OCX quarterly reviews begun in March 2016, which to date have included the secretary and principal deputy acquisition chief of the Air Force, the program executive officer and Raytheon’s chief executive officer.

The alternatives to certifying the program included several options, including program termination, but this was deemed simply unworkable, due to the extended time it would require to design and field a new ground system for the vital GPS III network.

According to officials, the future of the OCX program will depend upon Raytheon’s ability to demonstrate that it can deliver the needed capability to the Air Force at acceptable cost and within an acceptable time.

(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @dodnewskparrish)
Distribution channels: Military