NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Lockheed Martin [LMT] is poised to produce the Air Force’s major satellite capabilities over the next decade, but company and service officials deny that there may be a growing dearth of competition for future space programs.

The service last Friday announced that Lockheed Martin was chosen to develop the service’s next-generation GPS constellation, about a month after the company was also selected to develop the future missile warning satellite system, called next-generation overhead persistent infrared (OPIR). Collectively, those two contracts will be worth nearly $10 billion.

The first GPS III satellite in transport to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo: Lockheed Martin
The first GPS III satellite in transport to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo: Lockheed Martin

Both contracts were ultimately awarded to Lockheed Martin without competition. Boeing [BA]  — which has built earlier GPS satellites — and Northrop Grumman [NOC] received contract awards and performed demos for phase 1 of the follow-on program in 2016, as did Lockheed. Both Boeing and Northrop withdrew from consideration for phase 2 of the program this past April. Lockheed Martin has been the sole contractor for GPS III systems.

During media events at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference here, Air Force officials and Lockheed Martin executives on Tuesday pushed back on the notion that competition has decreased in the space domain. Service Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics William Roper noted that the GPS III follow-on (GPS IIIF) contract was not originally meant to be sole-sourced.  

For the next-generation OPIR program, the service had to ensure that it retained its early missile warning capability even as it chose to cancel the SBIRS satellites, he said. “We have to field that capability on time. … So we had to go with vendors that are able to make the buses that are able to survive the environments today.”

However, the Air Force is working to ensure that there is competition for components of the next-generation OPIR program, such as the sensor, he added. Lockheed Martin is expecting to down-select a contractor for the payload in late September, Kay Sears, company vice president for military space programs, told reporters on Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of players, and even new players, that you can potentially tap from the sensor side,” she said.

The Air Force needs to use more competitive prototyping to draw down risk in its programs and keep industry players involved, even if they are not the prime contractor, Roper said.

“Just having that competitor … take their design through a critical design review is a lot better than saying, ‘I’m sorry you didn’t win,’” he said.  

The GPS III follow-on fixed-price-type production contract includes 22 satellites and is worth up to $7.2 billion. The first system is expected to be available for launch in 2026, the Air Force said in an emailed statement. The next-generation OPIR award is worth $2.9 billion and includes three satellites to be delivered within the next five years to replace the Air Force’s current space-based infrared system (SBIRS) constellation, also developed by Lockheed.

The Air Force eliminated funding for the seventh and eighth SBIRS satellites in its fiscal year 2019 presidential budget request, and awarded the next-generation OPIR contract to Lockheed in August via sole source. (Defense Daily, Aug. 14)