In April 2017, General Dynamics UK was awarded a £330m contract from the UK Ministry of Defence to design and develop the next-generation tactical communication and information system as the initial phase of the MORPHEUS programme. The system will be used to plan, deploy, manage and monitor communications and information for the Army. It will allow users to integrate new radios, applications and other system components faster and with greater ease.
General Dynamics will implement a new architectural approach, known as Evolve to Open (EvO), which will evolve the Bowman tactical communication (BCIP 5.6) capability into an open, modular system. The system will connect deployed tactical forces to their commanders, give improved access to powerful operational IT and simplify the user experience. The open system approach allows new technologies to be rapidly integrated to tackle emerging threats and enhance interoperability with allies.
The EvO contract is the first to be awarded for the MORPHEUS programme, which will give UK Armed Forces across all three services modernised command and control networks using the latest technology.
However, sources close to BATTLESPACE state that EvO has stalled for two reasons: money, and capability
The source said that GD UK has not completely finished EvO, and the MoD have to consider what to do next. The current spat over the Ajax programme hardly helps smooth matters.
When it was originally conceived to take Bowman to the next iteration to meet current warfare tactics and technology, the Multi-Doman warfare concept was in its infancy, so that did not form part of the consideration for EvO’s technology.
EvO aims to provide a plug-and-play solution to Morpheus to overcome the existing stovepipe proprietary software and technology solutions which do not easily network together.
Multi-domain warfare requires seamless connectivity from existing land, sea and air platforms from HQ to front line using a multitude of bearers be they radio, satcom, 5G or IP.
The source said that to develop an enhanced architecture for EvO to accommodate these requirements is a very ambitious undertaking given that it took 25-30 years to develop the 5G mobile phone standards.
The other obstacle is that in the majority of major MoD platform programmes, the contractor is required to develop a platform without necessarily having a requirement to talk to other platforms or indeed other armed forces equipment; thus, making it difficult to operate as a coherent force.
A solution could be the formation of a system of gateways as the current Bowman BCIP upgrades provide. The biggest problem to the original Bowman system was that the Command systems software used by GD UK, as it did on the Canadian Iris project, did not have any gateways.
Another change in doctrine since EvO was first conceived is that future wars will likely be fought with coalitions, probably led by the USA.
Thus, to save time and money, it would seem sensible for the UK MoD to look at what the US has done rather than try to specify bespoke radio systems for a ‘UK only’ requirement. This could give the MoD 80-85% of the Morpheus requirement at a more acceptable price and within a reasonable timescale.
Whatever the MoD decides, this is likely to delay the implementation of EvO as the Morpheus baseline by at least 2 years to 2024 at the earliest.
Can the current Bowman system withstand that timescale of delay?
In terms of technology, the current 50,000 Bowman radios cannot realistically provide the capability required for the 21st Century battlefield and in terms of hardware it is likely that some spares are already unavailable and sourcing spares will become increasingly difficult and prohibitively expensive.
On the plus side, as the British Army has shrunk by several thousands since the implementation of Bowman, there are surplus Bowman radios which can be cannibalised to keep the fleet operational.