New Year’s GPS Update with Col. Bernie Gruber

January 11, 2011  - By

Colonel Bernard Gruber, director of the GPS Directorate.


Don Jewell (DJ), our Defense Editor, caught up with Colonel Bernard Gruber (BG), the newest director of the newly renamed Global Positioning Systems Directorate at SMC in Los Angeles, California. They discussed the current status of the GPS program and the way ahead. Don caught Colonel Gruber just before he departed for the East Coast for an Executive-Level Acquisition Course at the Defense Acquisition University at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

DJ: Colonel Gruber, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I know you are a busy man. I know our readers would benefit from a GPS program status update, and I hoped we might also discuss the future of GPS if you are comfortable with that?

BG: It would be my pleasure, and Happy New Year to you, Don.

DJ: Thank you, sir. One of the questions I have been asked many times is how will the re-designation as a Joint Program Office or GPS Systems Directorate versus a GPS Wing affect operations and day-to-day activities, and will it have any impact on your effectiveness as an organization or on the user community? And what exactly is your title now, anyway? I have heard so many versions. Set us straight please.

BG: Great first question, Don. It’s been almost five years since we’ve been assigned as a Joint Program Office. And while I answer to a lot of things, my title is now officially the director of the Global Positioning Systems Directorate. The re-designation to the GPS Directorate is basically transparent when considering day-to-day activities and our effectiveness. We are still the same strong organization with the same mission and goals. We still develop, acquire and sustain GPS space, ground, and user equipment and want to keep GPS as the world’s gold standard for positioning, navigation, and timing, and the “joint” aspects of our program are as strong as ever.

DJ: That’s great to hear sir, so business as usual, just a unit re-designation to work through. Now let’s get to a space segment question. The first GPS IIF (IIF SV-1) is on orbit and reportedly performing better than expected. Could you provide us with a status update as well as a forecast for when IIF-2 will be ready for launch, and do you expect the same performance as IIF-1?

: The first-ever GPS IIF (SVN-62) is performing its navigation mission well and with the best atomic clock performance ever seen on-orbit. GPS IIF SV-2 is in final integrated system test and on track for a summer 2011 launch. We are heavily focused on getting these first couple of vehicles absolutely right to ensure that our production run of the remaining 10 IIF vehicles stays on track to support the GPS constellation. We expect to see solid performance meeting all requirements from SV-2 and all GPS IIF satellites.

DJ: Well, we certainly hope that prediction comes true. The last time we checked the GPS IIIA program was on track as well, and perhaps even a bit ahead of schedule. Has anything changed, and how do you foresee the future of the IIIA program?

BG: Don, we are still on track; the program has switched its focus from design to manufacturing with half of our 59 manufacturing readiness reviews completed to date. On December 17, the GPS IIIA space vehicle program received Milestone C approval, as well as authorization to initiate “long lead” parts procurement for the first two production satellites. This was a huge accomplishment for the whole GPS team. A total of eight GPS IIIA satellites will be built, with first delivery scheduled for spring 2014.

Additionally, the Bus Real Time Simulator (BRTS), which is the first deliverable on the contract, was received by the government in September 2010. The Assembly, Integration, and Test facility construction in Denver, Colorado, is on schedule with the outside of the building fully enclosed. So, yes, we’ve been making huge progress since we successfully completed, two months early, our GPS IIIA critical design review last August.

DJ: We hear the term all the time, but just what is Milestone C for the GPS IIIA program? And can you tell us a little more about the BRTS?

BG: Sure. We use these terms all the time and forget that there is another audience out there that does not use them on a daily basis. Milestone C is formal approval of the work completed in engineering and manufacturing development and approval to enter production and deployment, specifically low-rate initial production (LRIP) for most programs. For satellite programs, such as GPS IIIA, this is approval to begin production. As mentioned, we were approved for long-lead parts buys for our first two IIIA production vehicles, SVs 3 and 4. It might be interesting to note here that SVs 1 and 2 were bought with research and development (R&D) dollars, just a different color of money appropriated by Congress.

As mentioned, the BRTS was one of our very first deliverables on the IIIA contract. What we do with the BRTS is we take the simulated GPS signals that come from the A2100 bus that’s part of the Lockheed Martin GPS III system. This allows us to work through all the interface, data, and timing issues we have. Physically, it sits across the street from Los Angeles AFB in the laboratory in the Aerospace engineering facility.

DJ: Now the OCX program (Global Positioning System (GPS) Advanced Control Segment) is also reportedly on track, but historically ground support programs for space programs have always been a problem and a long pole in the tent for GPS. Can you give us an update on OCX and what we can expect in the next couple of years?

: Yes, I can. Since contract award last February, several reviews have been successfully completed: namely the Technical Baseline Review (TBR); Integrated Baseline Review (IBR); Software Specification Review (SSR); and a Hardware Preliminary Design Review (HPDR). We are planning for a system Preliminary Design Review in the spring of 2011. I know that’s a lot of reviews, but all of these will lead us to a Milestone B decision by the DOD, and is anticipated by the third quarter of fiscal year 2011, and reduce our risk posture along the way.

Now before you ask [laughs], a Milestone B decision is formal approval of work completed in the Technology
Development phase and approval to enter into the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase. As you know, with OCX, we completed a source selection in February, which was a down-select from the two phase A contracts to a single developer — Raytheon Space Systems in Aurora, Colorado.

Over the next couple of years, you can expect us to set up facilities, buy hardware, and continue software development until delivery of the first block in 2015.

DJ: Thanks for clearing that up. Now for one of my favorite topics; what about the MUE and MGUE programs?

BG: The Modernized User Equipment (MUE) program was established to leverage technology demonstrations to significantly reduce risk and ensure a high probability of success for the Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) program. We have received working hardware from each of the three MUE vendors and government testing is under way. The MGUE program has progressed nicely through the latest series of program reviews and we anticipate a Milestone A decision in early 2011.

Now, to be consistent, I guess
I should define Milestone A, which is formal approval of a program’s Materiel Solution Analysis to go into Technology Development. For MGUE, we have written a Technology Development Strategy document, using lessons learned from the MUE program, which highlights the acquisition strategy of the new program. This document has been approved by senior Air Force acquisition officials, and we are working to achieve OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates) approval in February.

MGUE will provide the warfighter with next-generation capabilities including a more secure GPS receiver and use of a more robust GPS military signal.

DJ: That’s great. Plus we managed to hit all three milestones and you defined them for us. Now what about flex power? We heard there might have been more problems than first announced when all the data from the flex power demonstration was analyzed. Any comments?

BG: After all was said and done, we considered the exercise of flex power in 2010 a great success. As you noted, there were a couple of older GPS receiver designs that exhibited unexpected behavior. To date, we have identified the issues and we now understand the behavior of these receivers during flex power conditions. Along with our sister wing, the 50th at Schriever AFB, the GPS Directorate is working with each of the affected organizations to determine the extent of operational impact, if any, and to identify acceptable techniques, tactics, or procedures that would allow these organizations to operate nominally in a flex power environment.

DJ: Colonel Gruber, let’s stay with the user equipment topic for a moment more. What are you able to tell us about OTAD (over-the-air-distribution) and OTAR (over-the air-re-keying)?

BG: Thanks for asking Don. A [cryptographic] key is required to unlock access to the GPS military signal. These keys are typically distributed to each military user and periodically loaded directly into each GPS receiver. As the number of military users has grown, the logistics for distributing these [physical] keys has become logistically more difficult. An over-the-air distribution capability has recently been added that facilitates the distribution of keys directly to military GPS receivers via the GPS signal, instead of physical contact or connection. We are confident this capability will help to alleviate some of the burden associated with physical key distribution. An on-orbit OTAD exercise was recently held to validate the capability and to help train users. The test, designated Transition Exercise #7, was successful and the GPS Directorate is excited to see this capability come on line in the near future.

DJ: Certainly we know having to key military GPS receivers sometimes presents a problem and many military users (warfighters) say it can be cumbersome and time-consuming. What do you say to the warfighters that repeatedly say these are many of the reasons they have gone to commercial and civil equipment in theater, not only as a backup but sometimes as their primary PNT equipment?

: The first thing that must be kept in mind is this: commercial and civil equipment is susceptible to being jammed or providing misleading information as a result of electronic attack. Warfighters depending on the integrity of their GPS data on the battlefield are assuming a significant operational risk when using commercial receivers, comparable to conducting military missions using non-secured communications. We understand that military receivers cannot always compete with commercial products in terms of the ability to rapidly incorporate the latest technology, so it is important that we receive user inputs so we can incorporate changes, if possible, in current receivers or into the design of new receivers.

DJ: Speaking of the integrity of GPS receivers, should we be on the watch for another major ground control segment (AEP) update any time soon?

BG: Again, with the 50th Space Wing, we actually just released and fielded AEP (Architecture Evolution Plan) Version 5.6 of our ground software. Part of our efforts to ensure seamless transition of these updates has been to develop a release process that includes a pre-engagement strategy and a test suite with many variations of current GPS user equipment. The next major update will be AEP Version 5.8. It is planned to complete depot-level software testing in the fall of 2011 and is scheduled for fielding in early 2012.

DJ: So, no new AEP updates to concern users for a while. However, there is currently a Sources Sought for GPS IIIA launch capability that was just released. Is there a problem projected with launching IIIA satellites that we don’t know about?

BG: There is no problem projected with launching the IIIA satellites. The GPS program has implemented a new concept of operations (CONOPS), where on-orbit testing is conducted by the program office before turning the satellite over to operations. The first GPS IIIA satellite will launch prior to the new control segment (OCX) being operational; therefore, we have taken measures to ensure a system is available to fully checkout the first IIIA spacecraft. This system, called LCS (Launch and Checkout System), ensures the maximum value of on-orbit testing to GPS III production, which in turn provides an on-orbit asset for test and checkout of the new OCX control segment as it becomes available for operations. We expect OCX and the first GPS IIIA satellite to be operationally available simultaneously.

DJ: So, what exactly makes the launch process so different between the IIAs, IIRs, IIFs, and IIIAs?

BG: Fundamentally there are no differences with the exception of the new CONOPS, which has gone into effect with the launch of the first GPS IIF. As I mentioned earlier, the GPS Directorate is now responsible for conducting on-orbit testing prior to turning the satellite over to the operational community.

DJ: Now talk about a CONOPS change; this certainly sounds like a major change in policy.

BG: Actually, Don, it is not so much a change as a move to comply with current policy. An AFSPCI (HQ Air Force Space Command Instruction) currently specifies that the program office must certify the satellite performance to the 14AF (14th Air Force) and the command (AFSPC) on-orbit. While this is commonly practiced by other space programs, GPS has been an exception. It aligns the authority to conduct the test with the program director’s accountability for its outcome. The change aligns GPS with the AFSPCI, and was first implemented on IIF-1.

DJ: So this is a major CONOPS change that means now you are responsible, that is the GPS Directorate, for the satellite from procurement until it is declared operationally ready and turned over to the 2 SOPS (2nd Space Operations Squadron) at Schriever AFB in Colorado. And you went through that process for the first time on IIF-1. Interesting.

That brings us to the next family of GPS satellites to be launched after IIF and that is IIIA. When exactly can we expect the first IIIA launch to occur?

BG: We are still on track to deliver the first GPS IIIA to
support a forecast late spring 2014 launch.

DJ: Colonel Gruber, uncharacteristically the GPS IIIA launch date has actually moved to the left or earlier on the calendar. If the IIIA launch date keeps moving to the left, could you find yourself in the position of launching a GPS IIIA before the last IIF is launched?

BG: As currently foreca
st, the first IIIA certainly could launch prior to the last IIF. While we will continue to work this with the 50th and through the 14AF, this may be a plan that helps the GPS program maintain itself as the gold standard for positioning, navigation, and timing. To that end, it will give us the ability to test and characterize the first on-orbit IIIA while still keeping IIFs in reserve.

DJ: Other than the major CONOPS change we just mentioned, what other significant changes have you made since you have been the new GPS Wing commander and now the director of the GPS Directorate?

BG: To be honest, Don, not many. Basically, we are continuing to build on the tremendous work of Colonel (USAF, Ret.) Dave Madden. With that in mind, I spent the first 30 days just listening and learning. That gave me an opportunity then at the 90-day point to release my Director’s Intent for 2011. And shortly thereafter, I signed out the Directorate’s Strategic Plan that put our organizational goals and objectives into three bins:

  1. Mission Effectiveness, which equals mission assurance
  2. Mission Efficiency, which equals return-on-investment, and
  3. Taking care of our people — always.

Although I didn’t change a lot, I did energize (or maybe re-energize) a few key areas. First, I wanted to close the gap between OCX and GPS IIIA, which we have now effectively done; second, I am taking another look at dual launch for future GPS space vehicles, including the use of new lithium ion (LiON) batteries and a lighter weight interface between the space vehicle and the launch vehicle; and third, I want to put a clear focus on standards so that vendors can exploit new technology and solutions for future user equipment.

DJ: What significant challenges then do you see in your future tenure?

BG: I think our biggest challenge is potential budget constraints in this fiscally constrained environment. Program stability is absolutely paramount for program success, and program stability requires three legs:

  1. Requirements stability
  2. Funding stability; and
  3. Personnel stability.

We’ll keep our eye sharply on all three.

Another major challenge facing the GPS Directorate is the proliferation of GPS user equipment, both from the perspective of the hostile intentions of our enemies, as well as interoperability or compatibility with the sheer number of GPS receivers out there. To that end, we have embarked upon an “Underwriter’s Laboratory” construct for security and performance validation.

DJ: Colonel Gruber, I want to thank you again for your time today and ask as a final question if there are any closing comments you would like to make or any additional topics you would like to discuss?

BG: Don, the great thing about the GPS program is that everyone truly wants to make this system work, and I’ve found that people understand GPS is a worldwide utility. As I hope I’ve articulated, we have an exciting future in this program, and you can clearly see how much is going on. And Don, let me say that I appreciate folks like you and GPS World magazine who continue to educate people around the world about our system. To that end, I would like to close with a special thanks to the men and women of the GPS Directorate for their tenacity, unparalleled work ethic, and incredible dedication to mission success.

DJ: It is our pleasure, sir, and again, thanks for your time and for the update. Good luck at Ft. Belvoir.

This article is tagged with , and posted in Defense, Opinions

About the Author:

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.

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