20 Jan 05. Whilst W.S. Atkins is busily employed on its study contract for the multi-billion UK FRES requirement, another battle is simmering behind the scenes with two giants of industry jostling for position to lead the project, BAE SYSTEMS and General Dynamics.
BAE has made no secret of the fact that it sees itself as the lead contractor for FRES, and has done so even before the purchase of AlvisVickers which the company sees as a knock-out blow in its dominance of the FRES project. Prior to the MoD problems reported last year between BAE and the MoD, the MoD had expressed concern that BAE would be custodian of all the major land, sea and air projects, FRES, Type 45 and Typhoon. BAE has never liked competition and has proved that when faced with it, it often comes second.
However, General Dynamics, which lost out in the bidding war for AlvisVickers, sees things differently. Not only is the company’s UK segment the prime for the Bowman digitization programme which will form a major part of the FRES architecture, it also possesses a large European Armoured Vehicles unit which takes in Mowag, the designer of the US Stryker vehicle, built under licence by GD. Whilst AlvisVickers has a licence for some Mowag designs the Stryker vehicle is solely GD’s, now sole sourced since the exit of General Motors Defense form the project. In addition the company has a huge legacy base of C4ISR contracts in the USA including WIN-T and the huge CHS-3 computer contract. In addition the company is developing advanced technology such as Satcom on the move (See BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.7 ISSUE 2, GENERAL DYNAMICS DEMONSTRATES SATCOM ON THE MOVE)
BAE also covets the overall UK architecture integration role for its newly formed C4I Division, that includes AMS and Niteworks. Mike Turner said last year that he would see the company fulfilling the role to develop US NCW architecture for UK and European use. However the BAE Main Board is still perceived to be wing-centric not C4I-centric, but with the arrival of Dick Olver from BP, things appear to be changing and he is directing his energies towards the acquisition of a number of key US C4I players. His new PR supremo Charlotte Lambkin is also believed to be bolstering this capability, which BAE has chosen to avoid highlighting under former PR guru Hugh Colver who concentrated more on the BAE-MoD spat which despite a number of confrontations his shareholders came out the losers. Since Olver’s arrival the share price has recovered sharply and the company is no longer for sale.
GD sees things differently, as prime for Bowman and with a wish to develop its UK technology base further beyond Bowman, it sees itself as amply suited to the role of FRS Prime, particularly with its strong links into the US technology for FCS.
Thus the first rounds in the huge contract are being fired behind the scenes to destabilise GD’s reputation on Bowman and its handling of the contract. Given our readership profile, we are being contacted almost daily by readers and media alike for us to reinforce this view. We are delighted to tell doubters and fans of Bowman alike that we will be running a feature on the progress of the project in the next issue. Early indications suggest that the fans will win the day hands down, we suggest that the doubters ring the skipper of HMS Ocean who has gone on record as being ‘delighted’ with his Bowman system.