The US Air Force (USAF) is reportedly planning to launch a new competition to acquire the next batch of Global Positioning System III (GPS III) satellites in 2018.

US Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center executive director David Madden was quoted by Reuters as saying that the USAF officials were scheduled to meet Pentagon chief arms buyer Frank Kendall on 11 March to lay out an acquisition strategy for the new programme.

Preliminary work on the multibillion-dollar programme is expected to commence in 2016, while a formal request for proposal is anticipated in 2018, Madden added.

Lockheed Martin, which is under contract to build the first eight GPS III satellites, is currently in talks with the USAF for constructing two more satellites.

"Preliminary work on the multibillion-dollar programme is expected to commence in 2016."

The USAF aims to kick off a competition starting with the 11th satellite, but did not rule out plans to continue partnership with Lockheed.

However, Madden insisted that a competition would definitely be launched as the service secured permission for a sole-source deal with Lockheed for 12 satellites only.

The USAF officials were seeking to structure a plan that resulted in a true competition for the programme, Madden added. He noted that the service would have to depend more heavily on investment by interested companies in preliminary design work for the new satellites in the wake of existing budgetary constraints.

Several companies, including Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics, are believed to have shown interest in competing for the programme to build the higher-power satellites with greater anti-jamming capabilities.

The GPS III is a next-generation communication satellite designed to replace the existing GPS constellation used by the military and civilian customers to offer navigational information worldwide.

The satellites are capable of delivering enhanced accuracy, navigation and timing services, as well as anti-jamming power. They carry a new L1C civil signal that ensures interoperability with other international global navigation satellite systems.