GPS:

Actions Needed to Address Ground System Development Problems and User Equipment Production Readiness

GAO-15-657: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 2015.

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What GAO Found

The Air Force has experienced significant difficulties developing the Global Positioning System (GPS) next generation operational control system (OCX) and consistently overstated progress to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) compared to advisory independent assessments it received. It needs $1.1 billion and 4 years more than planned to deliver OCX due to poor acquisition decisions and a slow recognition of development problems. The Air Force began OCX development in 2010 prior to completing preliminary development reviews in contrast with best acquisition practices. It accelerated OCX development in 2012 to meet optimistic GPS III satellite launch timeframes even as OCX development problems and costs grew, and then paused development in 2013 to address problems and resolve what it believed were root causes. However, as the figure below shows, OCX cost and schedule growth have persisted due in part to a high defect rate, which may result from systemic issues. Further, unrealistic cost and schedule estimates limit OSD visibility into and oversight over OCX progress.

OCX Cost and Schedule Changes Since Contract Award in 2010

OCX Cost and Schedule Changes Since Contract Award in 2010

The Air Force is implementing the military GPS user equipment (MGUE) program to develop for the military services GPS receiver cards capable of receiving the military-code (M-code) signal—which can help users operate in jamming environments. The Air Force has revised MGUE's acquisition strategy several times in its quest to develop the cards. Even so, the military services are unlikely to have sufficient knowledge to make informed procurement decisions starting in fiscal year 2018 because operational testing that provides valuable information about MGUE performance will not be complete until fiscal year 2019.

The current GPS constellation has proven to be much more reliable than the Air Force predicted when GAO last reported on it in 2010. Given delays to OCX, the Air Force has prepared contingency plans for sustaining the GPS constellation, but these plans may not deliver the full range of GPS capability. Initial M-code capability will not be available until OCX delivery in mid-2019 at the earliest and full M-code capability is likely at least a decade away—once the services are able to deploy MGUE receivers in sufficient numbers. Until the OCX program trajectory is corrected, additional delays to it may likely pose significant risks to sustaining the GPS constellation and delivering GPS capability.

Why GAO Did This Study

The satellite-based GPS provides positioning, navigation, and timing data to users worldwide. The Air Force is modernizing the satellite, ground control, and user equipment segments to enhance GPS performance.

The Senate and House Armed Services Committee reports accompanying bills for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 included provisions for GAO to review the status of OCX development and DOD's efforts to field M-code signal capability. This report addresses (1) the extent to which DOD is meeting cost, schedule, and performance requirements for OCX; (2) the progress DOD is making in delivering M-code capable MGUE by the end of fiscal year 2017; and (3) the challenges DOD faces in synchronizing the development of GPS III, OCX, and MGUE to deploy M-code.

To conduct this work, GAO analyzed program documents such as acquisition strategies; reviewed oversight reporting; assessed constellation reliability metrics; and interviewed officials from DOD programs and contractors.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD obtain a more robust independent assessment of OCX to identify and resolve root causes, and ensure MGUE design is stable to inform testing and procurement decisions. DOD concurred on OCX but stated that actions taken to date are sufficient. DOD partially concurred on MGUE. GAO believes all recommended actions are necessary to address systemic problems.

For more information, contact Cristina Chaplain at (202) 512-4841 or chaplainc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation from the report. Prior to the program declaring a Nunn-McCurdy breach on June 30, 2016, the only independent assessment was conducted by Defense Digital Services and was limited in focus to software development. Upon completion of the Nunn-McCurdy review, we will examine the extent to which the program was independently evaluated to determine if this recommendation was met.

    Recommendation: To better position DOD as it continues pursuing GPS modernization, to have the information necessary to make decisions on how best to improve that modernization, and to mitigate risks to sustaining the GPS constellation, the Secretary of Defense should convene an independent task force comprising experts from other military services and defense agencies with substantial knowledge and expertise to provide an assessment to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics of the OCX program and concrete guidance for addressing the OCX program's underlying problems, particularly including: (1) A detailed engineering assessment of OCX defects to determine the systemic root causes of the defects; (2) Whether the contractor's software development procedures and practices match the levels described in the OCX systems engineering and software development plans; and (3) Whether the contractor is capable of executing the program as currently resourced and structured.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation from the report. Prior to the program declaring a Nunn-McCurdy breach on June 30, 2016, no high confidence cost assessment was completed. The Air Force and contractor provided schedule assessments that were not evaluated and considered low-risk, but were directed to execute a 24 month schedule extension with no assessment of its feasibility and that did not take into account past contractor performance. Upon completion of the Nunn-McCurdy review and if the program is continued, we will examine the extent to which the program has produced high confidence cost and schedule estimates based on actual track record for productivity and learning curves if the program to determine if this recommendation was met.

    Recommendation: To better position DOD as it continues pursuing GPS modernization, to have the information necessary to make decisions on how best to improve that modernization, and to mitigate risks to sustaining the GPS constellation, the Secretary of Defense should develop high confidence OCX cost and schedule estimates based on actual track record for productivity and learning curves.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation from the report. Prior to the program declaring a Nunn-McCurdy breach on June 30, 2016, Defense Digital Services were initially retained for a month and subsequently remain embedded with contractor software developers to provide advice on development and process improvements. This work is ongoing. Upon completion of the Nunn-McCurdy review and continued involvement of Defense Digital Services, we will examine the extent to which the program has met this recommendation if the program is recertified to determine if this recommendation was met.

    Recommendation: To better position DOD as it continues pursuing GPS modernization, to have the information necessary to make decisions on how best to improve that modernization, and to mitigate risks to sustaining the GPS constellation, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Air Force to retain experts from the independent task force as a management advisory team to assist the OCX program office in conducting regular systemic analysis of defects and to help ensure OCX corrective measures are implemented successfully and sustained.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation from the report. Upon completion of the Nunn-McCurdy recertification process, we will reexamine if the intent of this recommendation has been met to ensure knowledge gained from the OCX assessment is used to strengthen oversight.

    Recommendation: To better position DOD as it continues pursuing GPS modernization, to have the information necessary to make decisions on how best to improve that modernization, and to mitigate risks to sustaining the GPS constellation, the Secretary of Defense should put in place a mechanism for ensuring that the knowledge gained from the OCX assessment is used to determine whether further programmatic changes are needed to strengthen oversight.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation from the report. The GPS program office has indicated they will not incorporate a critical design review (CDR) into the MGUE development effort because the program is further along than a CDR and adding one at this point may delay execution by 6-12 months and delay lead platform integration.

    Recommendation: To better position DOD as it continues pursuing GPS modernization, to have the information necessary to make decisions on how best to improve that modernization, and to mitigate risks to sustaining the GPS constellation, and to allow the military services to fully assess the maturity of the MGUE design before committing test and procurement resources, the Secretary of Defense should incorporate a critical design review in the Air Force's MGUE development effort.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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