In April 2015, the United States Air Force announced their plans to award multiple contracts worth up to USD$6 million this year for companies to demonstrate their abilities to build the next batch of GPS 3 positioning, navigation and timing satellites. This low number might come as a surprise to many, as last year’s contract figures fell between USD$100 and 200 million. Lieutenant General Ellen Pawlikowski, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, explained the strategy in an interview at the 31st Space Symposium.
Pawlikowski said the lower dollar amount reflects a change in the service’s strategy for acquiring the next batch of GPS satellites. The strategy, in a nutshell, would shift up-front development costs from the government to industry, which would recover its investment by amortizing it across a large block buy of satellites, she said. Lockheed Martin is currently under contract to build eight next-generation GPS 3 satellites, the first of which is set to launch in early 2017. Their contract also includes options for up to four more satellites and the Air Force has told Congress it expects to execute options for at least two of those satellites.Due to numerous problems with the advanced navigation payload developed by Exelis Geospatial Systems of Rochester, New York, the GPS 3 program is almost two years behind schedule, much to the frustration of the Air Force. In last June, the USAF announced that it planned to award up to two contracts in the $100 million to $200 million range to develop an alternative, with the proviso that Lockheed Martin and Exelis were ineligible to compete for the funding. Northrop Grumman and Boeing were two of the companies that responded last year to an Air Force request for information from contractors interested in building the next batch of GPS satellites.
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