Lockheed Martin screwup delays delivery of Air Force GPS satellites


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Our government in action! Incompetence by a Lockheed Martin subcontractor will delay the delivery of 32 new Air Force GPS satellites and will likely cost the government millions.

Lockheed has a contract to build the first 10 of the satellites designed to provide a more accurate version of the Global Positioning System used for everything from the military’s targeting of terrorists to turn-by-turn directions for civilians’ smartphones. The program’s latest setback may affect a pending Air Force decision on whether to open the final 22 satellites to competition from Lockheed rivals Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. “This was an avoidable situation and raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris program management,” Teague said in a Dec. 21 message to congressional staff obtained by Bloomberg News.

The parts in question are ceramic capacitors that have bedeviled the satellite project. They take higher-voltage power from the satellite’s power system and reduce it to a voltage required for a particular subsystem. Last year, the Air Force and contractors discovered that Harris hadn’t conducted tests on the components, including how long they would operate without failing, that should have been completed in 2010.

Now, the Air Force says it found that Harris spent June to October of last year doing follow-up testing on the wrong parts instead of samples of the suspect capacitors installed on the first three satellites. Harris “immediately notified Lockheed and the government” after a post-test inspection, Teague said in his message.

So, the subcontractor first failed to do the required tests, then it did the tests on the wrong parts. Sounds like the kind of quality control problems we have seen recently in Russia and Japan.

The worst part? The contract is a cost-plus contract, which means the government has to absorb the additional costs for fixing the screw-up, not Lockheed Martin or its subcontractor.

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3 comments

  • Des

    A contract like this, with a large number of satellites using well understood technology would be perfectly suited to fixed price contact.

  • Commodude

    Defense contractors would be in a very different business if they didn’t have the gift that keeps on giving. Cost plus contracts are invitations to waste and graft, and need to go away. Of course, when you gerrymander your business footprint to ensure you “Create Jobs” in the majority of Congressional districts, it’s easy to avoid scrutiny.

  • Concur with Des. While this *is* rocket science, it’s something we’ve been doing successfully for a long time. Building GPS satellites using off-the-shelf tech should not hold any surprises for the contractor. Maybe Trump can tweet about this.

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