COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, May 21 (Reuters) - A top U.S. Air Force general on Wednesday said she was disappointed about delays on the first Global Positioning System III satellite being built by Lockheed Martin Corp, but believed the company is taking steps to meet its commitments.
Lieutenant General Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center, said Lockheed was exploring a range of options for the program, including replacing Exelis Inc, the subcontractor that has run into trouble with the satellite's navigation payload.
"They know we are not happy, that we are disappointed at the delays we have seen and the technical issues that their subcontractor has had," Pawlikowski told reporters at the annual space conference hosted by the Space Foundation.
"They are considering whether an alternative source might provide them a better opportunity to meet their contractual commitments to us," she said, noting that Lockheed could also opt to replace only certain components, or build them itself.
Pawlikowski, who has been nominated to be the Air Force's top military acquisition executive, said she was in close touch with Lockheed about the program, and felt confident that it was "doing the right things" to address the delays.
Lockheed is under contract to build eight GPS satellites for the Air Force to replace aging GPS satellites in orbit. The new GPS III satellites will provide three times greater accuracy and en eightfold increase in anti-jamming capabilities.
Lockheed said Exelis had made good progress on the troubled navigation payload, and all of the components on the system had passed unit acceptance and environmental tests, except the mission data unit, which was now in thermal vacuum testing.
Exelis is now due to deliver the complete navigation payload to Lockheed this autumn, said Lockheed spokesman Matt Kramer.
He said each key component and subsystem on the satellite had to pass rigorous testing before it could be integrated on the spacecraft.
Kramer said the company issued a request for information to industry in the fourth quarter of 2013 to see what new technologies were available for next-generation payloads.
"This is an action we take on many of our programs and the kind of practice a responsible prime contractor undertakes to keep up with the latest technologies and innovations on the market," Kramer said. He declined to share details about the responses the company received, calling that data proprietary.
A spokesman for Exelis said the company had made "tremendous" progress on the navigation payload in recent months, but declined to comment beyond the statement issued by Lockheed. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Richard Borsuk)