WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force said on Friday it had chosen Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) to build 22 next-generation Global Positioning System satellites worth up to $7.2 billion, part of a major effort to modernize the GPS constellation of satellites.
The so-called GPS III follow-on satellites are expected to be available for launch into space beginning in 2026, the Air Force said.
“The world is dependent on GPS, from getting directions to getting cash from an ATM machine or trading on the stock exchange,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a statement. “These satellites will provide greater accuracy, and improved anti-jamming capabilities making them more resilient.”
General David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, said the new-generation satellites would provide important improvements to the system.
Since the 1991 Gulf war, the U.S. military has “relied on uninterrupted position, navigation and timing signals to employ precision on and over the battlefield,” Goldfein said. “This investment in GPS III continues to advance our capabilities into the future.”
Lockheed program manager Johnathon Caldwell said the GPS III follow-on contract would lift the GPS system to a “whole new level.”
“It takes full advantage of our flexible satellite design to incorporate additional new technology like a 100 percent digital navigation payload, regional military protection and new search and rescue payloads,” Caldwell said in a statement.
Lockheed took over GPS manufacturing work from Boeing in 2008 and has been building the first 10 GPS III satellites in a planned network of 32.
The program is years behind schedule. The first GPS III satellite was declared available for launch in September 2017 and is expected to be fired into orbit on a SpaceX rocket sometime before the end of this year, Lockheed said last month as it announced that the second GPS III was ready for launch.
The first 10 of the GPS III satellites are expected to be in orbit by 2023.
Lockheed said the GPS III will be the most powerful GPS satellite ever in orbit, with three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities.
Reporting by David Alexander; editing by Eric Beech and Leslie Adler