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Senior Leadership Held GPS III Contract Award Announcement Roundtable

Los Angeles Air Force Base -- The Air Force awarded a $1.5-billion contract for the research and development for two GPS IIIA, fully-operational satellites to Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Newton, Pa., May 15, according to Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile systems Center's Global Positioning Systems Wing official. 

"GPS III is a flagship program for the Air Force space community," said Col. Dave Madden, Space and Missile Systems Center's Global Positioning Systems wing commander, during a media roundtable teleconference. "This is a back-to-basics program. We're going back to the way we did business before acquisition reform. We will have full government oversight of a baseline ... government-approved specification." 

What that means is the government is going to be more involved in the management and execution of the contract, bringing it back to military standards and the "tried-and-true" process of system engineering. 

"GPS IIIA has more capability than any previous GPS space vehicles," continued Colonel Madden. "There is more power, a new civil signal, and a flexible design that builds upon commercial heritage of the Lockheed Martin A2100 Bus Line." 

Other members of the teleconference included Mr. Gary Payton, deputy under-secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs; General Robert Kehler, commander Air Force Space Command; and Mr. Doug Loverro, SMC executive director. 

The Air Force has up to five additional production options with two space vehicles each bringing the total up to 12 vehicles in the amount of $3.568 billion. The first of the GPS IIIA launches is scheduled to take place in 72 months in fiscal year 2014. GPS IIIB and GPS IIIC production is scheduled to begin in three years, consisting of 8 and 16 satellites, respectively. Ideally, GPS IIIA is intended to have 8 satellites for a total of 32 satellites in all. 

"One of the advantages of a block delivery is, depending on warfighter needs, and on demonstrated technology maturity, we can modify the number of spacecraft in each block as we need them in the future," said Mr. Payton. "If the technology maturity is promising and is successful, we could transition earlier to GPS IIIB." 

GPS IIIA, the first of the three "block" deliveries, will carry three to five times more earth-coverage power than the current GPS IIF and the IIR-M vehicles. By the time GPS IIIC is released, the power will have increased to 100 times. Each block will contain several spacecraft, which will add new capabilities to the GPS constellation. GPS III will also provide significantly more anti-jam protection to the current system. 

According to General Kehler, GPS III will feature three new capabilities: 1) increased resistance to interference and jamming for military operations; 2) an additional civil signal to provide inoperability with the European Galileo navigation system and 3) a robust design to support future GPS critical requirements. 

"Today, we are very, very comfortable and confident in the performance of the constellation. We watch that very carefully and very closely," said General Kehler. "We have some birds in the constellation that are performing spectacularly, well beyond their expected lifetime. ... we're providing better GPS coverage and better service today to the warfighters, in particular, than we have ever provided. GPS IIIA will enable the US to continue being the world standard for positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) service. That's why this has been such an important announcement for us today." 

Each new satellite launch will replace an older satellite in the constellation. 

"So each time we put a new satellite up, it improves [the overall accuracy of the constellation] because we've got a better clock on our system than we used to have," said Colonel Madden. 

"We have two more GPS IIR-M satellites to launch; and then we launch a series of GPS IIF satellites," said General Kehler. "Then we will begin launching GPS IIIA. 

"With each one of these launches, two things are happening. First, we are ensuring we are sustaining worldwide PNT service. Second, every new satellite that goes up is a little bit more capable and so we're adding incrementally to the constellation performance and capabilities. And the simple answer for the people on the ground with the GPS receiver is the constellation gets better all the time." 

"Our primary intent is to establish a long-term contract relationship with one prime," said Colonel Madden. "However, we kept our options open. If we have poor execution performance in IIIA or we have a need to increase the industrial base for GPS development capability, we could go to someone else for IIIB development. We structured the contract to give us that option when we move forward in time, that way we'll be able to make that decision if required." 

Lockheed Martin is one of two companies which produce the GPS satellites. Most of the engineering activity will take place in Pennsylvania. The actual satellites will be built in Colorado. The other company is The Boeing Corporation, which is currently working on the GPS IIF satellites.