Air Force takes another look at GPS deal

The U.S. Air Force, which operates the 27-satellite Global Positioning System used by civil and military navigators, has decided to re-evaluate and re-compete a portion of the satellite-manufacturing contract awarded to Boeing Co. in 1997.

Boeing's contract was for an initial six Block 2F satellites with options for up to 33 satellites. To date, the Air Force has not exercised any of the options because the constellation of GPS satellites is lasting longer than they thought. The GPS satellites transmit accurate position and timing signals to receivers on the ground, in the air or in space.

Contractually, the options set out in the original contract have expired and would need to be renegotiated, according to a written statement from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. The center is home to the GPS Joint Program Office.

In addition, changes have been made to the GPS satellite modernization plan that would modify all of the Block 2F satellites, set for launch starting in 2005. The Defense Department also learned that higher power signals more resistant to intentional jamming are necessary.

"All these forces came together during the waning days of the [2001] budget build and demanded that a new strategy be formulated," the Air Force statement said. "The Air Force views a new competition as the right way to arrive at a final system configuration that provides the needed future capabilities at the best life cycle costs."

Boeing was notified of the service's decision before it became final, the Air Force said. The Air Force still intends to exercise some of the options remaining on Boeing's contract, probably for six more satellites, or a total of 12.

"We fully support GPS modernization and will continue to work closely with the government to implement its modernization plan,'' said Dick Dalton, Boeing spokesman.

The change could open the door for Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the GPS Block 2R satellites, to compete to build additional satellites. The Block 2R satellites are intended to replace the current constellation in the interim and two have been launched so far.

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