Bowman - Telegraph 24 Aug 08

#1
Broken' £2.4bn radio put troops' lives in danger
Soldiers' lives are being put at risk by failings with the Army's £2.4 billion radio system, senior generals have been warned.


By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
Last Updated: 11:46PM BST 23 Aug 2008

An infantry commander in Helmand described the system, the second most expensive piece of equipment in British military history after the RAF's Eurofighter, as "astonishingly bad".

The radio's coverage sometimes does not extend from one side of a base to the other, while a shortage of batteries means soldiers are being ordered to turn off radios until they come under attack.

The Bowman communication system was supposed to revolutionise command and control in the Army. Its encryption software allowed commanders to talk securely for the first time without the need to encode messages. But in Afghanistan Bowman has been written off as a failure by many senior officers.

Lt Col Nick Borton, the commanding officer of the 5th battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 Scots) told Gen Sir David Richards, the Army's second most senior officer, that Bowman "was a broken system".

The infantry commander made his criticisms known during a visit to 5 Scots' headquarters in Musa Qala by Gen Richards, Lt Gen Graeme Lamb, the commander of the Field Army, and Brig Mark Carleton-Smith, the British task force commander in ­Helmand.

Col Borton told the senior officers that Bowman was hampering operations against the Taliban. He complained that the radio's coverage in Helmand had been reduced to under three miles, when it should, in theory, be limitless.

Col Borton said: "The coverage on VHF is just a few hundred metres, so we use HF or UHF but that only gives us five kilometres. In some cases we cannot even get coverage from one side of the base to the other."

Col Borton also said that a shortage of batteries meant that in an effort to save power, junior commanders were often forced to turn the radios off until they came under attack. He added: "The only way to tell how much power a battery has left is to remove it from the radio – that's a serious design fault. In a bid to preserve power, my section commanders only have their radios working when they are in contact. As far as I am concerned, Bowman is astonishingly bad; it is a broken system," he told commanders.

Col Borton raised his concerns over Bowman when Gen Richards asked him directly what problems his unit was facing. All of the senior officers present at the meeting, which was witnessed by The Sunday Telegraph, accepted Col Borton's comments without question. Junior officers in Col Borton's battalion were equally critical of Bowman, describing the radio as "utterly useless".

One said: "The only good thing about Bowman is that it provides secure communications. But what is the point of that if it doesn't work? We could end up with a situation where soldiers are being killed or injured because of communication problems."

Another added that troops would prefer the 20‑year-old Clansman system, which Bowman replaced, because the older radio was more reliable.

Bowman has had problems since it entered service with the Army in 2004. It was 10 years late and almost £500 million over budget. When the communication system was introduced, frustrated soldiers said Bowman was an acronym for "Better Off With Map and Nokia". It has also been reported that some soldiers have suffered radiation burns when transmitting.

Bowman's reputation was further undermined in a report by the House of Commons public accounts committee last year which found that despite being better than the previous radio system, it was far too heavy for foot soldiers. MPs said the project team which developed Bowman consistently failed to listen to senior infantry commanders who were concerned about the radio's weight and whether it was portable.

However, senior officers are at a loss as to why Bowman should not work properly in Afghanistan, given that trials found that the system functioned in both desert and mountainous environments.

The Ministry of Defence said: "Bowman has many advantages over its predecessor system, but the harsh conditions and challenging terrain under which it operates in southern Afghanistan would seriously stretch the performance of any modern digital radio communications.

"Improvements have already been made to enhance Bowman connectivity in the Musa Qala area and further improvements will happen as solutions are identified. Bowman, however, is just one part of an array of systems used in theatre to provide a robust communications network which allows commanders at all levels to exercise required command and control."

The truth will out.
 
#2
Having been serving in the first unit to trial Bowman on a operational scale (12 Mech HQ & Sig Sqn) I can confirm that it has never worked properly. But nevertheless, there are some pretty serious accusations from the senior officers? I very much doubt that anything will come of it though; we'll be stuck with it for another 30 years.
 
#3
Do the septics have the same problems, seeing as they have the same radios?

msr
 
#5
rabid spaniel said:
Lt Col Nick Borton, the commanding officer of the 5th battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 Scots)
Well, that's a sudden reassignment, I thought the white hackle and the 2 Div press release meant that he was CO 2 SCOTS...

...I just realised why he looked familiar on TV, it's because we were in the same syndicate on PCBC (TA)...
 

Trans-sane

LE
Book Reviewer
#7
msr said:
Do the septics have the same problems, seeing as they have the same radios?

msr
Do they have the same radios? I thought they had ones that worked (mostly).
 
#8
Trans-sane said:
msr said:
Do the septics have the same problems, seeing as they have the same radios?

msr
Do they have the same radios? I thought they had ones that worked (mostly).
I was of the understanding that both of us use Harris radios.
 
#9
Gravelbelly said:
rabid spaniel said:
Lt Col Nick Borton, the commanding officer of the 5th battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 Scots)
Well, that's a sudden reassignment, I thought the white hackle and the 2 Div press release meant that he was CO 2 SCOTS...

...I just realised why he looked familiar on TV, it's because we were in the same syndicate on PCBC (TA)...
Maybee the re-assignment is due to the CO 5 Scots being injured a couple of months ago and he is standing in?


Just a thought
 
#10
This isn't new, certainly not to me:

http://www.arrse.co.uk/cpgn2/Forums/viewtopic/t=40347.html

The Harris set is only the HF set. The VHF sets are made by ITT and are sh1t. The yanks are now buyng Thales JEM VHF/UHF radios. These are so much better than PRC 354 that it is unbelievable.

BOWMAN is truly dire. TheInfanry are now seeking a partial way out through FIST. Fingers crossed.
 
#11
Did a bit of work on this earlier in the year.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment
he has made of the impact of the defects in Bowman batteries on
armed forces personnel

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: There have been no known incidents involving Bowman
battery defects that have impacted upon armed forces personnel or
civilians in operational theatres.



Bowman Combat Radio System

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer of 22 January 2008, Official Report, column 1835W, on Bowman Combat Radio System, what research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the cost effectiveness of batteries provided by ABSL Power Solutions for Bowman; and whether the National Audit Office has been involved in making an assessment of the cost effectiveness. [184089]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Department has not commissioned research on, or evaluated the cost effectiveness of batteries provided by ABSL Power Solutions for Bowman. The Bowman contract for the complete system, including power supplies, was awarded to General Dynamics United Kingdom (GDUK) Ltd. on a firm price basis. GDUK subsequently awarded sub contracts to ABSL following their own competitive selection process. The National Audit Office has examined the overall value for money of the Bowman Combat Infrastructure Platform programme (HC 1050 Session 2005-2006/25 July 2006).


7 Feb 2008 : Column 1489W

Bowman Combat Radio System: Batteries

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer of 22 January 2008, Official Report, column 1835W, on Bowman Combat radio system: batteries, what information the Bowman power study is expected to add to (a) the report on portable power sources compiled by the Defence Scientific Advisory Council and (b) the commissioning of ABSL by the Future Integrated Soldier Technology project team to produce a prototype; and if he will make a statement. [184081]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Bowman power study is in its early stages but all appropriate evidence will be considered in the evaluation of future power options.

The power requirements for the Future Integrated Soldier Technology project are yet to be fully defined and there has been no commission of a prototype battery.

BOWMAN Combat Radio System: Batteries

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to release the general design specification for Bowman batteries and invite a range of companies to tender for their supply. [180403]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: No. The Bowman prime contract was let in 2001 and the prime contractor, who has a commitment to supply the Bowman suite of batteries until 2009, issued a set of performance criteria and tested the market to ensure that the supplier offering the most appropriate, cost effective solutions was selected.

A Bowman power study is being conducted which, when complete, should assist with ensuring that improved capabilities are delivered to the armed forces and aid the future procurement strategy for batteries.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the ability of ABSL/AEA to provide batteries for Bowman to the standard required in theatre; and if he will make a statement. [180404]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Department has not undertaken an assessment of ABSL/AEA's ability to provide batteries for Bowman to the required standard. Overall responsibility to MOD for the standard of the product rests with the Bowman Prime Contractor, General Dynamics United Kingdom Ltd. However, ABSL Power Solutions, as the battery provider, is responsible for the quality and assurance of their products.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence for what reasons Bowman HF batteries have been recalled for replacement; and who was responsible for ensuring that the quality of this product was of the standard necessary for theatre before it was sent overseas. [180405]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: In 2006, Bowman High Frequency (HF) Mark 1 radio batteries were recalled when it became evident that an immersion requirement had not been met and water ingress could occur. The battery provider, ABSL Power Solutions agreed to replace all
22 Jan 2008 : Column 1836W
Mark 1 HF batteries at no cost to the Department and the replacement programme is continuing. Overall responsibility to MOD for the standard of the product rests with the Bowman prime contractor, General Dynamics United Kingdom Ltd. However, ABSL Power Solutions, as the battery provider, is responsible for the quality and assurance of their products.

. The political imperative is "BOWMAN works and nobody will criticise it". Well, until Col Borton stepped up to the mark. If there have been any incidents as a result of Bowman failures and these failures have not been addressed I would be very interested to know.....
 
#12
A long and unhappy story.

http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/05-06/05061050.pdf

Most revealing bits are in the oral evidence:

"The point is: was the infantry-carried radio inadequately specified? The priorities given to me by the customer, and accepted by the Army broadly, were that the priority was to achieve the radio communications performance. We could not achieve both"

DR IAIN WATSON, DEFENCE PROCUREMENT AGENCY

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmpubacc/358/6110102.htm
 
#13
So this isn't completely one sided.

Comms has been proved from the centre of the AO to Musa Qal eh. Not a massive distance (104km) and slow time. I wonder if people think that its just a given that you will get comms, its not a 117.

Would be very interested to see how Clansman operated here in comparison.

MSR - I fairly sure the Yanks allocate Frequencies so they are at an advantage. That said they have other issues to do with comms.
 
#14
During the Vietnam contretemps, I was in a small team working with the USN on an ad hoc basis in the Far East. We had to use US Mil manpack radios because at that time there were no UK suitable USB radios. We like to think we are at the cutting edge of technology but it does not permeate it's way down to the man on the ground for whatever reasons. Nothing really changes.....
 
#15
drain_sniffer said:
Gravelbelly said:
rabid spaniel said:
Lt Col Nick Borton, the commanding officer of the 5th battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 Scots)
Well, that's a sudden reassignment, I thought the white hackle and the 2 Div press release meant that he was CO 2 SCOTS...

...I just realised why he looked familiar on TV, it's because we were in the same syndicate on PCBC (TA)...
Maybee the re-assignment is due to the CO 5 Scots being injured a couple of months ago and he is standing in?


Just a thought
Spot on d_s. he is CO 2 SCOTS and is standing in because of the injury to 5 SCOTS CO.
 
#16
One thing that f**ks me off with bowman, is the fact you can't cut in when sending a contact report. Now that puts life in danger.

"Contact minestrike.......oh hang on some Rodney is discussing shooting on his estate," Take off your £500 headset thats held together with harrymaskers, and drive upto him and tell him face to face...

I could rant all day about this usless piece of pump
 
#17
Stand by for leaks assassinating the Colonels character / reassignment to somewhere out of sight...

Talking to a Scaly recently; he'd been talking to some Americans about Comms; IIRC the Bowman set put out 25 watts; the US equivalent put out 400...
 
#18
FatBoyGeorge said:
Having been serving in the first unit to trial Bowman on a operational scale (12 Mech HQ & Sig Sqn) I can confirm that it has never worked properly. But nevertheless, there are some pretty serious accusations from the senior officers? I very much doubt that anything will come of it though; we'll be stuck with it for another 30 years.
I agree, I was given the task of becoming the Combat 'guru' for a Bde HQ not long after you, I was amazed at the poor specs of the system, when the system crashed down a basic function, the BOWTAT & C2DC folk said it works perfectly well on our vanilla laptops! 'Yes' I replied 'but your laptop are Pentium 4 whilst ours are Pentium 3 600s'. They loved it when for example we went to transmit a Bde road move and the system went down losing the whole set of orders. Woo hooo went the C2DC team rubbing their hands in our apparent misfortune! Its ok I said 'I have a back up on this USB stick (as the shit memory inhalers were too small or too few in number) and I'll just use this lead to restore it to the UDT'. The C2DC rep said 'you're not allowed to use that cable', 'Why not you use them!' said I to stunned silence. The Bde COS was behind me and backed me up. The whole system is shockingly poor!
 
#19
The entire procurement methodology was flawed, simple as that. They tried to use a traditional waterfall method which assumes you know what you want when you start and that it will be in service unchanged for a long time. Epic fail. Comms isn't like that.

What they should have done is use a spiral lifecycle. Use a solid systems engineering definition (*) and buy whatever was appropriate at the time. Thus you spin out various fits, each one more capable than the last. If battery A turns out to be inadequate, move to battery B.

For instance, I know that versions of PRR exist that are smaller, lighter than the issue one but are otherwise identical. The system can't buy those, it lacks the flexibility and agility to put something better in the soldier's hands.

(*) I know, I know, the MoD understanding systems engineering, a fantasy indeed.
 
#20
With several years under the belt with Archer, then spent working alongside one of our preferred contractors, Racal on the Bowman bid at Bracknell, none of us (and I'm talking MOD here) could believe the predominantly political decision to adopt the GD/Harris/ITT proposal. (The Harris HF unit is pretty much identical to that used by the Septics, albeit the UK version employs a - let's just say - different encryption system).

The Racal bid version of the HF radio was awesome, simply decades ahead of the Harris contender, designed by one of the most capable RF design teams in the world and backed by donkey's years of experience. The operational reports showed that it exceeded requirements in every single functional test, but the only stumbling blocks were cost/delivery. Racal were on budget and on time, the Septics undercut them and claimed they had stock of the basic radios, COTS procurement policy and all that, pure and simple. All ofit turned out to be untrue, but at least the politicians (and I include more than a few who wear uniform in that description) could then say it wasn't their fault.

That decision essentially cost the UK what was left of our idiginous military radio manufacturing capability, inasmuch that Racal threw in the towel as a consequence and fell prey to a takeover from French Thomson CSF, later rebadged to Thales. Most of the contractor teams were laid off or dispersed onto other duties, the skills have gone forever, largely dispersed into mobile phone technology.

I had the misfortune to be sent to Basingstoke to get involved in reporting on the ITT/Harris setup. It was dire, little expertise (save what they had stolen from the now shattered Racal team, and only then project managers), just a very basic test lab (no network analysers, not even a spectrum analyser at that time), a few low level assembly workers more familiar with assembling ITT/Canon connectors and pi55 poor support from their Septic owners.

Rather than get entangled in the inevitable political fallout, I filed my reports together with a request to transfer to other projects and was one of the lucky ones to transfer to other duties. Everything I have heard from those in the field, every report that I have seen, every comment I hear has merely reinforced my opinion that Bowman is a flop of epic proportions.

The issue on the Septics claiming 400 watts is, IIRC, a red herring based on their tendancy to measure ERP at the antenna as opposed to RF output of the tx. The standard kit was certainly identical when I evaluated it.

Sorry if I sound bitter over the whole issue, I still carry a few scars and saw a number of muckers whose lives were completely ruined as a consequence. RIP Racal, RIP Johnnie Walker (chief RF architect, died in 2006)

ps: The MOD actually does employ quite a number of systems engineers, whose woprk is largely hampered by far too many project managers
 
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