Atlas, other ‘troubled’ Space Force programs to miss 2023 deliveries

WASHINGTON — The Space Force will fall short of its goal of delivering three long-delayed programs by the end of this year, despite a push from the agency’s top acquisition official.

Projects include the Next Generation Operational Control Segment, or OCX, a high-demand ground system designed to operate modern GPS satellites. the Advanced Tracking and Launch Analysis System, called ATLAS, a core space command and control system. and the Military GPS User Equipment program, MGUE, which develops cards that enable anti-jam capabilities for GPS receivers.

“The current schedule for all three programs shows that they will not be delivered in 2023,” Space Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews told C4ISRNET in an Oct. 20 statement.

Since being named the Air Force’s first assistant secretary for space acquisition and integration last year, Frank Calvelli has challenged the Space Force to move faster to develop and acquire new systems. He has issued a list of nine “doctrines,” or guides, for acquisition programs, which calls for smaller and simpler designs, greater use of existing technology, improved coordination between contractors and government program managers, and accountability for poor performance.

It has also set out to deliver the ground systems that support satellite operations, data processing and decision-making on faster timelines – a long-standing challenge for the agency.

Calvelli’s first public push for these “long-term, struggling programs” to reach their goals on the field came in January. Speaking at a National Security Space Association conference, he said delivery of these systems was a high priority.

“These albatross . . . they’ve been dragging the department down for decades,” Frank Calvelli said in a Jan. 24 speech at a National Security Space Association conference. “This is the year these programs will be delivered.”

Ten months later, not only are the programs unable to meet their year-end goal, but they have accumulated additional delays over the last year that will push their delivery into next summer.

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Persistent uncertainty

OCX was originally scheduled to go live in 2016, but schedule uncertainty has been a persistent challenge for the program.

RTX, formerly Raytheon Technologies, is developing the system and delivered the first capability increment, Block 0, in 2017. Block 0 can support launches of GPS III satellites, the newest variant of the system, but cannot operate them once in orbit . Blocks 1 and 2 will provide this capability along with better performance and protection against cyber threats.

The program’s previous schedule called for the delivery of blocks 1 and 2 last January, but technical issues discovered during software testing delayed that plan until next spring. The agency now expects OCX to be delivered in June 2024, according to McAndrews.

The Government Accountability Office said in a June report that a technical problem with the GPS System Simulator used for testing also contributed to the delivery delay.

RTX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

McAndrews said the agency has “increased the frequency of senior-level engagements” in the program, indicating that the measures “have spurred changes in the attitude of vendor personnel as well as improvements in testing processes and approach.”

While OCX development is led by a prime contractor, Space Systems Command serves as the lead integrator for the Space Command and Control program, which includes ATLAS.

Space C2 consists of several other hardware and software development efforts, but the data analysis and processing capabilities from ATLAS will allow the Space Force to decommission the 1970s-era Space Defense Operations Center, known as SPADOC.

The core capability for ATLAS, developed by L3Harris, is expected to be delivered next August, McAndrews said. The agency had previously expected to release the program’s minimum sustainable capacity by the end of this year, a milestone that had already been delayed since late 2022.

Once delivered, the system will enter a trial period before being validated for operations. The timeline for that testing phase is still being finalized, McAndrews said.

ATLAS development challenges are largely related to the difficulty of coordinating the many capabilities that make up the Space C2 system, which is the role of the Space Force as the primary integrator. To address these issues, the agency last year implemented an engineering and systems integration team and reshuffled staff to focus on ATLAS delivery.

“Collaborative Collaboration”

In a statement to C4ISRNET, L3Harris said the company is “working” with the Space Force to complete the ATLAS capabilities required for initial operations by next August. In the meantime, the company is making incremental deliveries, recently beginning its fifth such test event with SSC and the 18th Space Defense Squadron, the company said.

“We will continue to work with all parties to help meet the timelines associated with decommissioning SPADOC and build on the recent successes of our software deliverables,” spokeswoman Christina Hoggatt said in an Oct. 24 statement. “The community continues to work collaboratively to ensure that capability transition and reliability are at the center of delivery to the warfighter.”

RTX and L3Harris both have a role in MGUE, an incremental effort to make GPS receivers used across services more resistant to hostile interference and spoofing attempts. For Increment 1, L3Harris is developing the receiver cards for land systems and RTX is providing the aviation and marine cards.

Development of Increment 1 began in 2017 and has faced ongoing development challenges related, in part, to changing production plans. A June report from the GAO highlighted progress in the effort, but warned that delays in incorporating the first increase could affect other parts of the program.

L3Harris has completed the development of the terrain cards, which are now integrated and mounted. McAndrews said the shipping and aviation cards were certified last April to begin testing and are expected to complete the final milestones next year. Specifically, the Air Force should be certified to begin operational testing on the B-2 bomber in July, and the Navy on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer next October.

He said the program was “running at the current baseline of the acquisition program.” As at OCX, officials are closely monitoring the effort to “ensure compliance with performance standards.”

Performance responsibility

The Space Force did not provide details on what steps the agency has taken to hold companies accountable for any cost overruns and schedule delays tied to their performance, though L3Harris said contract terms and fee structures for ATLAS “remain unchanged”.

Asked whether RTX or L3Harris had been placed on the contractor liability watch list — established in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 as an acquisition oversight tool — McAndrews said the agency “does not publicly comment on specific actions of the space agency liability watch list.” contractor”.

The Space Force can put companies on the list for schedule and performance issues and could bar them from receiving new work.

Calveli has stated that he would make use of the list when warranted. In a November 2022 memo, he instructed the acquisition workforce to “not tolerate [the] poor performance we’ve seen in some traditional big…

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