(Bloomberg) -- A $6.1 billion Raytheon Technologies Corp. system of 17 worldwide ground stations to control the Pentagon’s GPS satellite constellation has newly discovered software flaws, delaying its delivery and initial operations yet again.

There’s no new timetable for delivery of the system, which most recently had been projected for December after it had passed acceptance tests in November, Air Force officials told Bloomberg News. The latest plan had been to declare it ready for operations by April. It was originally supposed to be up and running in October 2016.

Once called the Defense Department’s “No. 1 troubled program” by a Pentagon official, the ground stations are intended to provide improvements, including access to more secure, jam-resistant software, for the military’s use of the GPS navigation system, which is also used by civilians worldwide.

The latest delay in the Next Generation Operational Control System, known as OCX, “is largely due to software deficiencies discovered in preparation for its final qualification test,” Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisitions, said in a statement. “Consequently, the system is not mature or stable enough to conduct operator training” and other steps required before it’s ready for operations, he said.

‘Troubling’ Delay

The Global Positioning System maintained and operated by the U.S. military is ubiquitous, providing turn-by-turn directions on smartphones as well as coordinates for smart bombs. The new ground system is needed to take full advantage of improved GPS III satellites being built by Lockheed Martin Corp. They promise increased accuracy for navigation, a signal compatible with similar European satellites and improved resistance against cyberattacks.

The Raytheon system “has already been delayed for six years so the latest delay is troubling to say the least,” said Cristina Chaplain, a former Government Accountability Office director who followed the program for years. “Civilian users are counting on OCX to use modernized signals that improve the accuracy and range of GPS signals. Military users are counting on OCX to take advantage of modernized military signals, notably anti-jamming capabilities,” she said.

Her successor at GAO, Jon Ludwigson, said “the latest delay is important insofar as OCX is important in the ability to launch and complete the initial on-orbit checkout” for the next generation of satellites.

The delay’s cost will be borne by taxpayers because Raytheon is operating under a so-called cost-plus development contract, Major Remoshay Nelson, an Air Force spokeswoman, said in a statement. The program’s total estimated cost has soared from $3.9 billion to an estimated $6 billion since Raytheon received a development contract in February 2010. 

The government will have a new approved schedule within months, Nelson said.

The Air Force said in October that “Raytheon’s performance remains in line with government expectations, considering the large scale of software and Covid-related impacts” since 2020 as the system “moved on to the final pre-delivery stages.”

Raytheon spokesman Chris Johnson said in a statement that “during recent testing, the ground system experienced technical issues that will result in a delay.” He said the company is “working closely with the US Space Force to resolve these challenges and allow for additional training time to accommodate operator needs.”

The Pentagon decided in late 2015 to stick with the Raytheon contract after weighing whether to cancel it over earlier delays. It was months later that the head of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center called OCX the Defense Department’s “No. 1 troubled program.”

The Air Force was forced that year to hire Lockheed to provide initial controls for the new ground system.


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