Blunders over £2.5bn army radio system

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by eveyoz, Mar 8, 2007.

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  1. Apologies if already posted.

  2. But do you reckon anyone is going to be held to account for it?

    And do you reckon we are going to get better radios?

    I heard great things from some friends that trialled FIST; where has that all gone?
  3. I wonder how much profit General Dynamics and Co have made out of that £2.5?

    FIST and FRES seem to have gone the same way Swede............. Cut with the money going to pay for DII and comfortable chairs at main building!
  4. Parliament's spending watchdog has launched a devastating attack on delays and blunders in launching an ambitious new £2.5billion battlefield radio system for the armed forces.

    They got the cost wrong. It’s much more when you take into account dependencies.

    The Bowman digital radio system is meant to link thousands of troops, vehicles, warplanes and ships in a powerful network carrying secure radio messages and vital data on targets and locations instantly across the battlefield, helping to speed up operations and prevent friendly fire tragedies.

    This may have been an original aspiration, but for over a decade it has been known that BOWMAN will not deliver the air components across the full range of aircraft, thus reducing tempo. BOWMAN was known to be unsuitable for high tempo land operations in the late 90s. Despite MoD giving an impression to the contrary, it has never been anticipated that BOWMAN would deliver “Combat ID”, which would reduce friendly fire.

    MOD officials 'seriously underestimated' the technical challenges of the Bowman system, failed to grasp how long it would take or what it would cost, and carried out inadequate checks on vehicles which were meant to be fitted with radios.

    Not all officials made this mistake. But in the mid-90s CDP decided to get rid of the technical staff in MoD’s procurement organisation, so is little wonder technical challenges were not widely understood. MoD knew how much it would cost, but were “cash capped”. The criticism –re vehicle modifications was made nearly 10 years ago by the National Audit Office, and before that the MoD’s BOWMAN Directorate were reminded numerous times of the mandatory processes to follow to ensure success. They refused to.

    They accepted into service 'portable' infantry radios which were too heavy and clumsy for soldiers to use, and failed to appoint a senior officer responsible for making the whole project work successfully.

    MoD may have accepted the radios off-contract, but the “User” (i.e. the Army, as represented by HQ Land) only reluctantly accepted it into Service following extreme political pressure. This has been the subject of various critical reports and 15 months ago it was announced that another project would replace these radios. Little more has been heard about this, not least because of the political embarrassment of having to replace over 65,000 radios before all of them have even been delivered.

    Design work on Bowman began in the early 1980s but after years of work and with the project already five years overdue the MOD pulled the plug in 2000, sacking the main contractors, as the prototypes were already years behind the latest mobile phone technology.

    This is slightly unfair. The contractor of the day (a consortium) had not been awarded a full development and production contract. In fact, they produced a costed proposal which, on the face of it, was unaffordable, but actually included many of the dependencies mentioned above, which were not included in the subsequent contract. Thus, one cannot compare like with like. It is true some criticism is warranted, but most must be aimed at MoD – if the customer does not state his requirement clearly, the contractor cannot plan and cost the job. The comment about old technology is also unfair – the radios which have recently been delivered and will continue to be delivered for some years are 1990s technology at best. In fact, many users will have to hand back newer and better kit when they are given BOWMAN.

    An off-the-shelf system was bought for £2.5billion and officially declared 'in service' in 2004, but today's report reveals that some parts of the Army have still not been equipped, and Bowman still does not offer all the promised capabilities.

    BOWMAN is not truly “off the shelf”. Yes, many of the individual components are, but the significant task with OTS kit is always the system integration. The in-service declaration was a political expediency. The “roll out” of BOWMAN is planned to continue for some years, which to be fair is what one would expect given the volume of kit involved. This does not detract from the fact it is over a decade late though.

    In particular British troops still cannot talk easily or pass data to allied forces - a key requirement to help avoid UK troops being killed in future 'friendly fire' tragedies.

    This is true, but such a level of interoperability is and always has been an unfunded aspiration. That is, it is not policy and BOWMAN was never meant to deliver such a capability. The failure to progress Combat ID in a timely fashion is another issue, and a failure of Duty of Care; but it is not BOWMAN’s fault. However, many in BOWMAN did tend to give the impression BSAM (BOWMAN Situational Awareness Module) would deliver Combat ID, when it clearly can’t. This fundamental misunderstanding of Combat ID and SA, and the fact that they are very often mutually incompatible, or even undesirable, taints much of what we hear about the subjects.

    'And Bowmen will not for the foreseeable future have the ability to communicate with our allies - the feature intended to lessen the likelihood of 'friendly fire' accidents. These problems must be sorted out.'

    This is too simplistic. In many respects BOWMAN is just a “bearer”. The analogy is television. BOWMAN is the transmitter and your TV set. But it is useless without TV programmes being made and fed to the transmitter. These “TV programmes” include the dependencies mentioned above. The question to ask is why they were not programmed (i.e. funded) to be delivered at the same time as BOWMAN.

    There was inadequate preparation for installing the kit on the military fleet of 15,700 land vehicles, 141 naval vessels and 60 helicopters, and several key capabilities had to be removed so that the system could start being rolled out in 2004.'

    The “preparation” mentioned here is the art of knowing what standard your vehicles are at, so that you can tell the contractor what to expect. However, it has not been policy for many years for MoD to maintain their knowledge of these build standards. Therefore, when the vehicles arrive at the workshop for conversion to BOWMAN, the time taken to convert includes lengthy survey to assess what has been done in the past to each vehicle, so one can work out what to do now. Then you have to buy materials. A simple view, which doesn’t include the fact that BOWMAN is wholly incompatible with some vehicles in the first place. The BOWMAN Directorate was given many presentations in the mid-90s, both by industry and other MoD Directorates, to warn them of the work needed to prepare for conversion.

    Despite the latest digital technology the portable Bowman sets used by infantry are more fragile and heavier - at 14lb - than the old Clansman versions they replaced, and were condemned as 'not acceptable for use' by senior officers.

    This is true, but does not say this was known for many years but the Army was ignored.

    Defence minister Lord Drayson said the lessons of the Bowman project were being learned, but insisted the system itself was 'world class and our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are benefiting from it today.'

    The lessons have not been learned. Lord Drayson should ask why, after being warned of each and every one of these issues throughout the 90s, nobody listened to those staffs with a track record of delivering such programmes, or to the users who would have to use the kit. And, may I suggest, Lord Drayson seeks out those staffs and puts them in charge of future programmes, as they have very clearly demonstrated the competence and grasp of detail which is so abhorred by the “businessmen” who run MoD.
  5. in_the_cheapseats

    in_the_cheapseats LE Moderator

    I was about to get worked up about this but Bakersfield has done a rather excellent job already.

    I would back up the unhappiness of the user. It is well known that every DInf since 00 (ie since we redid the programme) has stated and written to the CoC informing them that the proposed manpack BOWMAN sets were unfit for purpose, if for no other reason than its weight was well over the given parameters set by the Inf.

    Shut up and get on with it was the answer from MOD.

    I know one Dinf went as far as to show ECAB a set that would have met all the requirements. I believe he got a bollocking for it too - not pulling the party line, I suppose. :roll:

    Good post, Bakersfield
  6. Do we share a desk, Bakersfield? I completely and utterly agree with every sensible word!

    I used the software last year and was appalled at its poor quality and the hoops through which I had to jump to do something relatively simple.

    The batteries were an earlier issue; when we worked out the potential battery usage, it was a huge bill which no-one on the planning staff had anticipated. Cue lots of creative accounting (one suggestion was that the batteries were purchased from the field rations budget and were inserted into our compo boxes - I agree that the method of delivery was novel but forcing the rations budget to pick up the bill was a bit too far, IMHO)!

    Has the MOD learned to trust its staff? No, because it is currently in the middle of another large re-organisation that will see a large chunk of experienced manpower lost out of the door.

  7. So what does Bowman do that is so special? Is it not just two way digital radio with a text/data facility?

    Surely it can't be that hard?
  8. I think it is something to do with it being squaddie proof, work in the desert and in sub zero temps. All that makes it a bit chunky. Oh and did it mention it should not look good on ebay when the guys try to flog them. :thumright:

  9. Allegedly it is a scam that has allowed a number of people concerned to prosper at the expense of expendable squaddies and matelots, pure incompetence even by the MoD’s standards does not explain half of the glaringly dubious decisions made in its ‘development’.
  10. Litotes

    “The batteries were an earlier issue; when we worked out the potential battery usage, it was a huge bill which no-one on the planning staff had anticipated”.

    Thanks, and to Cheapseats as well.

    Please don’t get me started on batteries. As you say, this was all known donkeys years ago. BOWMAN were told before their contract was even negotiated. The management of batteries in MoD is a ******* mess and the waste is criminal negligence. Some would say fraud given it has been known about for so long and avoided by everyone in authority. Well, it’s come home to roost, hasn’t it? A total recall and replacement of (hugely expensive) HF batteries because they don’t meet even the most basic quality and design standards one would expect from Woolworths, never mind stringent military specs. (And I hope no-one was injured when they burst into flames / exploded).

    Do you know what makes it worse? The same batteries are procured by numerous other IPTs, from a variety of manufacturers, at a fraction of the cost. The difference being they work, last longer and don’t self destruct. Oh, and you can charge them properly, assuming you have the right charger, which BOWMAN hasn’t. As you say mate; work out the usage and cost (especially given our ongoing operational commitments) and think how many tens of millions you could save, EACH YEAR. Money that would be better spent on much needed kit. ECBA comes to mind.

    Summary: Batteries are not just a commodity; they are a Critical Enabling Technology. To paraphrase a wise man “On the battlefield you can’t own the day or night without power”.
  11. So put it in a Pelicase. I'll bet you could put a cellphone in a pelicase and it would meet the spec for durability. Most squaddies manage to use a cellphone and they can send live streaming video ffs!

  12. I maybe aiming in the wrong direction here but i was under the impression that one particularly large reason for awarding General Dynamics (canada) the contract was that we sold the Canadian government some knock off Subs and/or destroyers.
    And a certain somebody that i know who looked at the 4/5 tenders for Bowman mumbled something about every other company stating what GD promised was un do-able, and thier budgeting was in fairy land.
    Do you know anymore Bakersfield or am i just talking rhubarb?
  13. Report here:

    Try this for size.

    Page 31, Q49. Read the 2nd answer on VHF radios. Disingenuously separates the radio from the antenna, batteries, UDT, etc when discussing weight. In other words, doesn't look upon it as an integrated system. Barking. Absolutely barking. The MoD approach to BOWMAN (and many other projects) summed up in one line.

    And this is a cracker.

    Apparently amplifier designs cannot be miniaturised over time, so must always be the same size and weight. So the amps in the VHF radio are honking thermionic glass valves are they, with associated and equally honking power supplies? Or perhaps they use germanium transistors. Maybe even silicon transistors. Good Lord, they're not integrated circuits are they? Have you ever seen an IC the size of a half pint glass? This is first class bollocks. And if the Public Accounts Committee haven't got anyone who can immediately spot this crap, then I suggest they go out and co-opt someone who can.

    Next question (50). Extolling the virtues of the HF system. See my previous post. He could have added "Which we can use properly now we've been embarrassed into buying the proper ancilliaries which we didn't think we'd need, for example, antennae".


    No rhubarb there. Most MoD Directorates who were relying on BOWMAN said the same. As did the Army (especially), RAF and RN. You may have got the company name slightly confused with Computing Devices (Canada) who are now, I believe, subsumed within GD. CD(C) actually make excellent kit, but as you know BOWMAN is sourced from many suppliers and none of the main radios (PRR, VHF, HF) are made by these companies.