Another month is slipping away with no sign of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the multi-billion dollar GPS III contract.
Procurement of the next tranche of GPS III satellites is one of the largest contacts on the horizon. The GPS Directorate has said it wants to award the entire deal for up to 22 spacecraft to one company as a way to save money on redesigns. Estimates put the value of the contract at around $10 billion.
The plan last June was to release the RFP in September, GPS Directorate Deputy Director Col. Gerry Gleckel said during a presentation to the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board, the nation’s top experts on GPS.
In early November, Lieutenant General John Thompson, head of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, told reporters the RFP should be issued "in the very near future." Air Force Space Command then posted a notice in late November announcing the RFP would be released on or about December 7. After the 7th rolled by without an RFP a spokesperson told Inside GNSS it would be out by the end of the year. As of press time the Air Force had not responded to a query about the new release date and the cause of the delays.
Thompson did say during the media briefing that the competition could not move forward until the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council, or JROC, approves the requirements-related paper called the capability development document (CDD).
“There is always a chance something will come up,” Thompson said. “I really would like to get that RFP out, but I have no desire to put one out there and then have to modify it because of a change in the CDD.”
It’s not clear if the JROC has, as yet, weighed in on the CDD, but it is quite possible they are having a hard time getting to it. The Department of Defense is deep into a reorganization of the military space management structure ordered by lawmakers in the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Conference Report.
The reorganization is the primary reason the RFP is not out, said one well-placed expert who spoke anonymously to be able to speak freely. "It’s one of those things."
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"I do know that that’s (the reorganization is) taking up a lot of the bandwidth in the Pentagon," said Mike Tierney, a senior consultant with Jacques and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in defense, space/intelligence, homeland security and related industries.
Under the reorganization, the Pentagon is to establish a separate military department — an organization on par with the Army, Navy or Air Force — to be responsible for military space activities. As part of that the office of the Principal Department of Defense Space Advisor (PDSA) office and the Air Force Space Operations Directorate are to be terminated. Plans to execute all these moves have to be quickly prepared and submitted to Congress.
"There are wall to wall meetings in the Pentagon amongst all of the senior space people," said Tierney. "…So it doesn’t surprise me that the bandwidth in the building is a little sucked away right now."
The new structure may streamline activities "in maybe four or five years," said the expert, but until then, people will be unclear on who gets to say yes, and who gets to say no — and everything will slow down.
"People will be spending hours and days trying to figure if they still have the authority to do what they did before," said the source.