GPS III program faces cuts, more delays in 2015 budget

The Air Force is planning to slow the development of the Global Positioning System III satellite program as a part of cuts detailed in the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request that was unveiled on March 5.

The Air Force originally planned to purchase two GPS III satellites next year, but now it is only planning on buying one.

The original plan was to purchase two satellites per year for the next two years, and then three satellites per year for the three years after that. The delay in procurement would reduce the number of satellites in the next two years to one per year.

The GPS III satellites are expected to affordably replace current GPS satellites while providing additional capabilities. They are designed to be more accurate and more resistant to jamming techniques, while also having a longer lifespan. The satellites will also use a new civilian signal to enhance civilian connectivity. So far, Lockheed Martin is contracted for eight GPS III satellites.

The delivery of the first GPS III satellite is now expected to slip into fiscal 2016. A delay in February due to problems with the Exelis-made payload had already pushed the delivery date from 2014 to 2015.

The previous generation of Block IIA satellites has survived much longer than expected, and the Block IIF satellites have been working as an interim solution between Blocks IIA and IIIA.  The Air Force launched the fifth GPS IIF satellite Feb. 20.

“The issue there was the satellites lasted longer than we expected, said Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, the Air Force’s director of space programs, as reported by Inside GNSS. “The GPS program procurement rate was a little bit faster than we needed (and) we were under pretty strong budget pressure for options. And so, while we would probably have a more efficient buy profile if we bought them at the rate we had planned, we decided we could delay that purchase rate, still meet the requirements for the on-orbit constellation … and at the same time save funding requirement that we needed in [the Future Years Defense Program].”

The cut of a single satellite has a secondary effect – the Air Force no longer has to send it off into space. With the lower replenishment rate for the GPS satellites, the Air Force has also cut funding that would have pushed for the development of dual-payload launch vehicle capabilities. However, it will continue to fund the development of the capabilities needed for dual-launch in satellites in case the United Launch Alliance develops dual-launch vehicle capabilities independently.  

Instead of the GPS III satellites, the Air Force will fund the development of a long-deferred weather satellite program known as the Weather System Follow-On, which will replace the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. The new military weather satellites could showcase the concept of disaggregation, which favors less complex, smaller satellites that use hosted payloads and new deployment schemes, according to Space News.

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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