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Dec 28, 2006

Air Force Considers Outsiders for GPS Work

The United States Air Force is considering hiring outside consultants to oversee systems integration of its next-generation navigational satellites. Today's Wall Street Journal, quoting "industry and government officials" reports that the Air Force is considering retaining an outside consultant in hopes that the new approach could help it avoid costly troubles that plagued previous efforts.

The project involves setting up a next-generation U.S. Global Positioning System. This newer GPS system, called "GPS III" would feature stronger signals and be more jam-resistant. The ultimate costs for such a system could run as high $100 million for 24 satellites.

Hiring a separate project manager would be a implicit acknowledgment by the Air Force that it lacks the necessary expertise to oversee the project. Traditionally, the military has retained primary responsibility and control over systems engineering and integration. Such a management contract could offer a lucrative opportunity for private-sector contractors. However, such a move involves a considerable potential for conflicts of interest.

Currently Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. are competing to build the new satellites and would be expected to compete for the systems integration contract as well. The Air Force is concerned about the potential for conflict of interest if either company were awarded the integration contract.

Production of the GPS III satellites is scheduled for 2008. However, the next generation spacecraft may not go into orbit until 2013.

Complete article from The Wall Street Journal (Subscription required).