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Air Force, Raytheon Seek to Speed Software Development for GPS OCX

The U.S. Department of Defense is working closely with Raytheon Co. to speed the development of software, especially for the OCX program for GPS.

Military development and procurement of software has been typically over budget and behind schedule, although the Pentagon and industry leaders such as Raytheon Co. hope to change these trends. One of the key development programs is the operational control system for the GPS, known as OCX.

The OCX development program was initially managed by the U.S. Air Force, but transferred to the Department of Defense (DoD) because of the USAF’s slow pace. The next-generation OCX program is obviously critical to all allied defense forces. And as Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment for the DoD notes, “It’s a program that I have spent quite a bit of time on.” In working closely with industry partner and OCX prime contractor Raytheon, Lord was recently part of an OCX program review that included USAF Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Will Roper and Tom Kennedy, CEO of Raytheon.

This is an artist’s conception of how the OCX system will control legacy and newer GPS satellites for civilian and military applications. (Courtesy of the USAF)

Military programs have had a long history of problems with timely software development, with the OCX program one of the best-known programs suffering delays due to lack of software modernization and for using software development methods that were abandoned by the commercial industry many years earlier. By using “agile development” methods, the industry creates new versions of software quickly, even when understanding that additional versions will be needed based on user feedback concerning required improvements.

By not trying to get everything right the first time, this agile development approach helps speed software releases at a much faster pace than in military programs where the effort is made to get everything correct the first (and only) time. However, according to Lord, OCX software development was moving to an agile approach to speed the program: “I believe we are at an inflection point in terms of doing things differently. We are pivoting from the traditional waterfall software development methodology to agile development. So we are coding every day, testing every night.”

The OCX program is designed to develop a system that will command all newer and legacy GPS satellites, manage all civilian and military GPS signals, and provide improved cyber security (see the conceptual image of the OCX system). The DoD has hired Jeff Boleng, former chief technology officer of Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, to help repair the OCX and other military software problems, including software for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Boleng is joining Lord’s staff as special assistant for software acquisition.

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