U.S. policy shift pushes back plans for new GPS satellites

U.S. policy shift pushes back plans for new GPS satellites

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Los Angeles, USA, 6 May 2006 – Long-pending Pentagon plans to solicit bids for a new generation of significantly enhanced, more-powerful Global Positioning Satellites have been delayed at least a year, partly due to Air Force policy changes that stress less-risky, incremental acquisition of new space hardware, according to military and industry officials. On the drawing boards since the late 1990s and previously projected to be put out for bid this year, the so-called GPS III programme remains in limbo as Air Force and Pentagon brass mull its design and timing.

Military and industry officials said a final decision has been made that no contracts will be bid or awarded this year. Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., which now manufacture current-generation GPS satellites, are expected to compete for multi-billion-dollar contracts to build future versions.

The Pentagon’s new space-acquisition policy, championed by Air Force Undersecretary Ronald Sega, aims to reduce technical and budget risks by slowing down and stretching out development of the biggest satellite programmes. Recently, Sega and other Air Force officials have been looking at making the GPS III satellites smaller, lighter and less complex than previously envisioned, these officials said. The GPS programme is well known outside the Pentagon because its signals are widely used in a wide range of consumer devices, commercial-aviation applications, map displays in cars and other non-military uses.

Air Force Lt. Gen Michael Hamel, who is in charge of GPS acquisitions, confirmed recently that pressure to stick with a faster GPS III timetable has lessened because the existing satellite fleet is lasting longer than expected. And a large number of current-generation GPS satellites are either in assembly or close to completion. Lockheed Martin has seven of the navigation satellites on order and Boeing has nine, though the companies are working on somewhat different versions.

“We are watching this very closely” to make sure military requirements are fully met, Lt. Gen. Robert Kehler, Vice Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said in an interview earlier. Gen. Kehler said he still believes GPS III will be deployed by 2013, adding that anti-jamming protections also entail possible changes in ground equipment and receivers. From an international perspective, Air Force officials also want to assure that future GPS procurements won’t conflict with the separate European Galileo navigation system, current under development but not yet launched.