GPS Mission Operations – Why It Matters

  • By Braxton
  • Published December 19, 2014
  • Tagged

The current GPS operational control segment (OCS) program implements a traditional support model with Level 1 support providing basic day-to-day administration of the ground system and routinely handles rudimentary troubleshooting of basic system problems. Level 2 troubleshooting issues, however, frequently deal with advanced operational configurations, system capabilities, and possible product bugs or even failures.

The current GPS OCS Level 2 support team is off-site — in other words, not co-located with 2 SOPS (Second Space Operations Squadron) that flies and maintains the GPS satellites. Rather, the Level 2 support operators are called on as needed. Which unfortunately puts them out of the operational loop for day-to-day operations.

The current support model reflects a traditional and outdated legacy approach, concerning only the signal in space, that weighs the value of operational uptime and reliability against the cost of expert support. Such an approach may work well for a satellite system where downtime is not a big concern. However, that is certainly not the case for a system as universally critical as the Global Positioning System. Unfortunately, historically the cost of downtime, critical problems, and impacts to the mission were rarely considered in the trade analysis between cost and operations resiliency.

An excellent operational example of the realm of the possible and hopefully the future for operational support is the Cheyenne Mountain complex, which moved away from the traditional Level 1 and Level 2 based support model in 2004 in order to significantly improve operational resiliency, support response times, and mission success.

One of the critical downsides of the traditional Level-based support model is the time required to determine and solve problems. It takes considerably longer than the more modern and responsive support model implemented in 2004 by the Cheyenne Mountain complex.

Typically, using the GPS Level 1 and Level 2 operational support model in place today, when a mission operations team is in need of technical assistance, a Level 1 technician is notified and attempts to troubleshoot and solve the issue. Only when the Level 1 support team fails to remedy the technical issue is the Level 2 team called. The Level 2 support team, which is usually offsite, then starts the troubleshooting process from the very beginning.

This reminds me of the frustrating process we all go through when we call our local cable, satellite, television, Internet, or phone provider(s). Before the problem is finally solved, we typically explain it no less than three times and spend an inordinate amount of time talking to people who are not able to solve our problem. Eventually we are routed to the correct technician and the problem is solved. This is a perfect example of the failings of Level 1 and Level 2 based support. The model CSC and Braxton Technologies are proposing fixes these major shortcomings of the current process.

For GPS operational support, the circumstances are even more complicated and nonsensical. The GPS Level 2 operational support team is at a critical disadvantage from the beginning of the process, since they do not have the day-to-day context of the operational use of the system to assist them in the troubleshooting process. Again, precious time and money are wasted explaining the problem and its criticality in the context of day-to-day operations.

How do Air Force Space Command, SMC, and 2SOPS plan to fix the problem? Hopefully by searching for a better operational support system that does away with the frustration of two independent levels of support and brings the GPS OCS (Operational Control System) into the 21st century.

Mission and Delivery Assurance

One solution could certainly be the proposed CSC team operational support concept, which builds on the foundation and solution established and sustained by Braxton Technology and CSC at Cheyenne Mountain several years ago, as in the example mentioned earlier. This new support paradigm revolves around two basic concepts: 1) Mission Assurance and 2) Delivery Assurance. The mission assurance concept centers on putting the smartest personnel on the operations floor with the operators, so that most problems are identified, triaged, and solved without calling in outside help. CSC and Braxton initiated this concept in Cheyenne Mountain in 2004 in an operations area that appropriately enough became known as the Cheyenne Mountain Mission Assurance Center (CMAC). Level 2 support personnel replaced Level 1 personnel in Cheyenne Mountain, and the talent pool was significantly upgraded in an effort to increase mission uptime by having the most knowledgeable personnel on the floor at all times, so problems could be remedied in seconds or minutes, not hours or days.

This concept proved so successful that the Integrated Space Command and Control (ISC2) Program Office supported expanding this single-level operational support concept to the primary Test and Development Facility (TMAC), the Alternate Missile Warning Center at Offutt AFB (OMAC), the Command Center at Peterson AFB (NMAC), and the Space Control Center at Vandenberg AFB (VMAC), just to name a few.

Hopefully, the operational success of the support model used in the Cheyenne Mountain complex teaches us that mission critical systems have unique requirements that weigh in favor of a more experienced operational support team with mission and operational knowledge/exposure. History has proven, time and time again, that the length of time to repair operational problems and outages impacts the overall cost of sustaining the system significantly and outweigh the marginal increase in cost of moving to a more experienced operational support team. Time is money and downtime for the GPS is an unacceptable compromise, especially in wartime and when lives are at stake.

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