WASHINGTON: Raytheon has been given a green light, and $378 million, to replace computer hardware embedded in the next-generation Operational Control System (OCX) for GPS satellites considered at high risk of Chinese hacking, Space and Missile Systems Center announced today.
The hardware in question was provided by IBM, and based on the x86 chipset widely used in personal laptops and high-end workstations up to 2018. However, in 2014 IBM won approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to sell the product line to China. Under that sales agreement, IBM kept supporting rights until 2022.
SMC explains that while the USG at the time of the CFIUS approval noted that the sale would create an unacceptable cybersecurity risk to the OCX system, and thus the integrity of the critical Global Position System satellite network, but decided to wait until prime contractor Raytheon made headway in the long-troubled OCX program before implementing any solution.
Breaking D readers are well aware of OCX’s difficult past, including a Nunn-McCurdy breach in mid-2016 –– meaning that the program had exceeded its costs by more than 25 percent, and had to get reauthorized by Congress. But as I reported back in August, SMC has been happy with the progress Raytheon has been making.
“Over the last two and a half years, since OCX came out of its Nunn McCurdy breach, Raytheon has been executing as planned, giving us confidence in OCX’s ability to transition into operations,” Lt. Gen. John Thompson, SMC commander, said in a statement today. “Software development completed last fall and the program is in the integration and test phase. In less than a year, Raytheon will deliver a qualified software baseline capable of operating the GPS constellation.”
According to SMC, OCX will “deliver two-times more satellite capacity, modern cyber secure infrastructure, improved accuracy, globally deployed modernized receivers with anti-jam capabilities and improved availability in difficult terrain.”
Following a 2017 study of US vendors, HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) was chosen to replace the IBM chipsets and a pilot project — using 17 external monitoring stations and four ground antenna sites — was completed, SMC said.
“This gave us confidence that we had a viable OCX technical solution providing a long term sustainable hardware baseline that meets our stringent cyber security requirements,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Gabriele, SMC’s OCX materiel leader.
The decision now, he explained, will allow Raytheon to replace the hardware before the operational OCX system is delivered to prime contractor Lockheed Martin — now expected in 2021.
“As Raytheon continues to track to their contractual commitments, addressing the unsupportable IBM cyber security risk is prudent to do pre-system delivery to the government,” Gabriele said. “Although this government-directed change will impact the Raytheon schedule, the government is holding Raytheon accountable to deliver qualified software prior to integrating on the HPE platform and deploying to operational sites.”
“The U.S. Air Force’s decision to replace IBM hardware on the GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System protects the entire GPS enterprise and all its users,” Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business, told Breaking D in an email today. “GPS OCX has achieved the highest level of cybersecurity protections of any DoD space system, and we will maintain that industry-leading standard going forward.” (THERESA HITCHENS).


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