McCain blasts Air Force acquisition of GPS

Arizona Republican John McCain blasted an Air Force program to acquire a next generation operating control system that is central to the service’s GPS modernization plans.

Wikimedia image (public domain): United States Senator John McCain.

Senior United States Senator John McCain (Arizona-R)

Arizona Republican John McCain blasted an Air Force program to acquire a next-generation operating control system that is central to the service's GPS modernization plans, saying that costs are spiraling out of control.

"[P]oor contractor performance and fundamental weaknesses in DOD acquisition and software development practices now threaten" delivery of the system, known as OCX, said a report released Oct. 16 by the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman.

McCain's report drew on a recent Government Accountability Office study that found that the OCX program will cost $1.1 billion more and take four years longer to complete than planned, "due to poor acquisition decisions and a slow recognition of development problems." The OCX is needed to control the latest generations of GPS satellites in orbit, according to GAO.

The Air Force in February 2010 awarded an $886 million contract to Raytheon to develop the OCX. But the development contract costs have since ballooned to $1.98 billion. The Air Force did not follow acquisition best practices such as doing a preliminary design review before the start of development, according to GAO. Further, "key requirements, particularly for cybersecurity, were not well understood by the Air Force and contractor at the time of [the] contract award," the watchdog said.

Raytheon officials told GAO that they did not understand the extent to which they would be required to implement cybersecurity requirements until three years after beginning OCX development.

The GAO study recommended that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter set up a task force comprising experts from the military services and elsewhere to provide "concrete guidance for addressing the OCX program's underlying problems." In response to that recommendation, Katrina McFarland, the assistant secretary of Defense for acquisition, said that defense officials had already established an independent assessment team.

The Global Positioning Systems Directorate, the Defense Department's acquisition office for GPS equipment, is hosting a public forum on Dec. 9 and 10 to take comments on documents that define specifications for how GPS components communicate.

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