By Sandra I. Erwin
Few big-ticket Pentagon programs are as universally loved as the Global Positioning System satellites. Without GPS, it truly would be the end of the world as we know it.
But GPS suppliers, which include the Pentagon’s top contractors, still believe it is important to remind lawmakers and key congressional staff what they do, just in case anyone happens to be aiming the budget ax at GPS modernization programs.
Not coincidentally, the GPS industry’s big guns — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ITT Exelis, Honeywell, and General Dynamics — are hosting a “Global Positioning System Modernization Day on the Hill” May 31 at the Rayburn House Office Building Foyer.
Like every defense contractor these days, GPS suppliers worry about budget cuts, particularly to the new generation of satellites known as GPS III.
“Across the board every program is being scrutinized,” said Lockheed Martin spokesman Michael Friedman. The event on the Hill is an “opportunity to show the importance of GPS and the great progress that we’re making,” he said.
Lockheed has been the prime contractor and manufacturer of GPS III satellites since 2008, when it beat archrival Boeing. The Air Force plans to spend $4 billion on six satellites, the first of which is scheduled for launch in 2014 or 2015. Satellite suppliers would like to see the Air Force buy 32 to replace the entire GPS II constellation.
At the event on Capitol Hill, industry also will be marketing GPS III not just as a replacement for aging satellites but as a more secure system that can defeat jammers and spoofers.
Current satellites are becoming increasingly susceptible to interference, he said. Experts warn that low-cost devices that jam and spoof GPS signals are now easily available. A trucker in Newark, N.J., recently deployed an anti jam device so his employers would not see his location and, in the process, caused a crash of the GPS landing system at Newark International Airport.
A GPS jammer can block or scramble satellite signals, while a spoofer can deceive a GPS receiver. The signals from upgraded GPS satellites that will be deployed in the coming years are less vulnerable, industry representatives said.
[The entire GPS system] is an “expensive program but also a very worthwhile program for military and commercial interests,” said Raytheon spokesman Jared B. Adams. “We want to harden assets so spoofing and jamming don’t take place in the future,” he said. Raytheon won the GPS III ground control equipment contract in 2010. The program is worth about $2.5 billion.
In its annual report on major Pentagon procurement programs, the Government Accountability Office said GPS III is “experiencing cost growth and the contractor is behind schedule, but the program does not expect these delays to affect the launch of the first satellite.”
Lockheed Martin lost a $70 million incentive fee as part of the $1.4 billion contract it received for the first two satellites. GAO estimated the cost growth at about 7 percent.
Supporters of the GPS industry event include Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Pete Olson (R-TX), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Jared Polis (D-CO), Steven Rothman (D-NJ) and Scott Tipton (R-CO).
Exhibitors expected at the GPS forum include Airlines for America, L-3 Communications, National Marine Manufacturers Association, PNT National Coordination Office, Rockwell Collins, and Stanford University.