WASHINGTON — The Raytheon-made Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) program is running behind, but the Pentagon’s top acquisition official says the company has made positive steps that are helping to get the program back on track.
Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters Monday that Raytheon has “totally changed how they develop software” for the program, following a 2016 Nunn-McCurdy breach that threatened the future of the program.
“I think it’s a program that is not where we want it to be right now, but one which has improved tremendously, especially over the last six months. And that’s because leadership right at the top of Raytheon, Tom Kennedy, is personally involved,” Lord said.
Following the 2017 split of the legacy Acquisition, Technology and Logistics office, Lord made an effort to push the management of 89 major defense acquisition programs being run out of the Pentagon down to the service level. However, she retains oversight on nine of those programs, including OCX:
- Integrated air and missile defense (Army)
- Littoral combat ship seaframe (Navy)
- SSBN 826 Columbia-class submarine (Navy)
- Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (Air Force)
- OCX (Air Force)
- VC-25B presidential aircraft recapitalization (Air Force)
- Ballistic missile defense system (Office of the Secretary of Defense)
- Chemical Demilitarization-Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (OSD)
- F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (OSD)
Of the three Air Force-specific programs, Lord was clear that OCX is the “key” program she closely watches. The program will provide a next-generation control station for America’s GPS constellation.
Pentagon and Air Force leaders have previously claimed that the problems with OCX originated from the complexity of requirements and speed of change in the software world. In essence, software developers at OCX manufacturer Raytheon couldn’t keep pace with the rate at which that cyberthreats evolve, at least if they were forced to stick to traditional processes.
“They’ve embraced DevOps, they’re doing automated testing every night. When we throw the flag down and say, ‘Time out, we need to talk about something,’ they all come to the table and they listen. So I think OCX is one that we will still manage from this level, but I think we’ve seen significant improvements.”
The first GPS III satellite, which OCX was supposed to control, was scheduled to launch Dec. 18, but has been postponed until the next day due to a sensor reading from the rocket’s first stage that prompted SpaceX to change the launch date.
As to what could improve in the future, Lord’s wish list will come as no surprise for those tracking the program.
“I’d like to see software coding and testing that’s one for one, so we are testing everything and finding all the errors and fixing them in a rapid basis. I would like us continue to come down on cost. And I would like to see us continue to improve scheduling,” she said.
Valerie Insinna in Washington contributed to this report.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.