The Space Force’s next-generation GPS ground systems programs hit new milestones last week, as the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC)’s GPS Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) program directed contractor Raytheon [RTN] on March 26 to replace the program’s computer hardware.

The service requested the switch be done prior to delivery as the original hardware provider IBM [IBM] will be sold to the Chinese-owned company Lenovo in the next two years. The Space Force will pay $378 million for the government-directed contract change, according to a Friday notice.

The program was originally planning to use IBM’s x86 product line for the next-generation GPS ground control stations, but the impending sale – set to occur in August 2022 after being approved in 2014 by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – forced the Air Force to begin a hardware trade study in 2017 to identify a replacement vendor. Hewlett Packard Enterprise [HPE] was ultimately selected to provide the 17 external monitoring stations and four ground antenna sites.

However, the center waited to fund new hardware until Raytheon showed “promising program performing in delivering OCX,” the release said.

“Over the last two and a half years, since OCX came out of its Nunn McCurdy breach, Raytheon has been executing as planned, giving us confidence in OCX’s ability to transition into operations,” said SMC Commander Lt. Gen. John Thompson. “Software development completed last fall and the program is in the integration and test phase. In less than a year, Raytheon will deliver a qualified software baseline capable of operating the GPS constellation.”

Making the change now will allow SMC to eliminate $150 million in rework and retesting, “and ensuring we deliver a system that is capable of transitioning to operations,” said Barbara Baker, SMC Command and Control Division’s senior materiel leader in the release.

OCX aims to replace the current operational control system and modernize and sustain the current GPS capability as the Air Force deploys its new GPS III satellites, built by Lockheed Martin [LMT]. The program would also improve the system’s cybersecurity by enabling a stronger, more encrypted GPS signal called M-Code.

According to a May 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, OCX development is currently projected to take about five years longer and cost at least $2.5 billion more than originally estimated. Work began in 2012, and has since undergone three schedule baseline adjustments. The most recent, from September 2018, has a goal for the Air Force to reach a decision to transition the capability to operations by April 2022, with the last-resort threshold date of April 2023.

SMC also announced last week that the Contingency Operations (COps) program — an upgrade built by GPS contractor Lockheed Martin [LMT] to support OCX through its development process — received operational acceptance from the Space Force March 27.

The Contingency Operations program is one in a series of upgrades to GPS III systems that will allow the Space Force to control and operate the advanced satellites while it awaits delivery of OCX. Lockheed Martin delivered the upgrade to the Air Force in May 2019. The Space Force was formally established in December 2019; it has since taken over SMC and with it, the GPS portfolio.

In October, the first on-orbit GPS III space vehicle successfully connected to the COps system, which has since been operating in a trial period, SMC said in the May 27 release. The center also declared the second GPS III satellite operational on Friday, with the third satellite scheduled for launch in April.

Lockheed Martin also continues work to allow for M-code operational availability this calendar year. The Space Force’s M-Code Early Use (MCEU) upgrade was delivered in early 2020 and will enable the currently operational control system to task, upload and monitor M-Code within the GPS constellation.

This spring, the company will begin to install the components needed to command and monitor the M-Code encrypted GPS signal into the program’s operational control system. That will enhance anti-jamming and protection from spoofing, as well as boost secure access for U.S. forces.

“Our warfighters depend on GPS signals every day for many critical missions, so anything we can do to make these signals more resistant to jamming and spoofing is extremely important – and available today,” said Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin Vice President of Navigation Systems, in a Friday release.

The company has worked to improve the cyber defenses of the GPS constellation, delivering the Red Dragon Cybersecurity Suite (RDCSS) Phase III upgrade during the fourth quarter of 2019. That is expected to boost Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO) visibility into GPS network traffic, and will supply user behavior analytics to analyze patterns of traffic and network taps to improve data collections, per the company.

Lockheed Martin is currently on contract to build up to 32 new systems within the GPS III and GPS III Follow-On (GPS IIIF) programs.