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. DOD took some steps to implement this recommendation such as (1) conducting a Congressionally mandated independent assessment of OCX led by an FFRDC that focused on assessing the schedule in place in 2017, the likely delivery of OCX taking into account software defects, earned value management, among other assessments, (2) DOD's own Program Assessment and Root Cause Analysis (PARCA) provided root causes that led to the Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breach, (3) Defense Digital Services focused on contractor software development practices to improve them, and (4) the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office conducted an independent cost estimate (ICE). However, all of these issues were looked at individually and not holistically or through a comprehensive task force and did not provide a detailed engineering assessment to inform the proposed baseline.

    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. To date, a schedule has not been approved for the OCX program to allow us to be able to evaluate whether it is high confidence. The out brief from the integrated baseline review evaluating the proposed schedule indicates the proposed baseline is not based upon an actual track record for productivity but more optimistic estimates in at least one key area that has previously caused schedule delays. Until a schedule is approved by DOD with a cost estimate, this recommendation cannot be closed. We will reevaluate once a baseline is approved to evaluate the schedule put in place to see if it meets the intent of the recommendation.

    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. An independent task force was never formed to evaluate OCX as DOD took other steps to establish a baseline. As such, there are no experts to retain to form a management advisory team to meet the intent of this recommendation. DOD does hold tri-annual Deep Dives led by the OCX Program Office and contractor for senior leadership including the Secretary of the Air Force and Under Secretary of Acquisitions & Sustainment.

    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. An independent task force was never formed to provide a comprehensive OCX assessment before a baseline was proposed in June 2017 for the repeat of Milestone B. An independent assessment of OCX was conducted in 2017 by a FFRDC. Tri-annual reviews continue of the OCX program and have been in place since December 2015 with senior DOD leadership and the Secretary of the Air Force. However, it remains unclear how these meetings will contribute to further programmatic changes after approval of the proposed baseline. Once a baseline is approved, we will evaluate actions the department takes to evaluate whether further programmatic changes are needed 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: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. 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. Milestone B has been set and a CDR is not incorporated into the schedule.

    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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