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The Ministry of Defence’s £2.4 billion programme to transform battlefield communications, command and control through the joint introduction of Bowman digital radios and the advanced Combat Infrastructure Platform (CIP) to an exacting 30 month timescale, has been recast. A revised programme and a further £121 million of funding have been approved to deliver the capabilities that the armed forces require by 2007. Initial versions of Bowman and CIP have already started to deliver benefits to the UK armed forces on operations. Technical challenges still remain, though good progress has been made in making the system more stable and easily useable.

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We found evident commitment to the success of Bowman CIP from a wide range of participants in the Department, the Armed Forces and General Dynamics UK. Yet delivering the required capability to time and cost has proved difficult. Under Bowman CIP some 48,000 radios and 28,000 computer terminals are to be installed in up to 15,700 vehicles, as well as ships, boats and helicopters. An estimated 75,000 users are to be trained on the system. Another particular challenge is that programmes like Bowman CIP are incremental in nature and require continual development, as external technical change, software upgrades, evolving military doctrine, and operational experience require regular adjustments to be made.

Initial increments of Bowman and CIP are already delivering benefits to the armed forces on operations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those using it find the secure communications and situational awareness capabilities are having a direct and positive effect. Acknowledged to be considerably quicker and more secure than the outdated Clansman radios, the Bowman CIP programme indicates progress, through delivery of enhanced technical solutions, towards the originally envisaged improvements in operational tempo and effectiveness. However, it will not be possible to quantify how far the armed forces are achieving these specific measures of operational effectiveness until they use the full fielded system.

Replacing analogue technology Clansman radios with Bowman military digital radios has been a longstanding priority for the MoD. The Department’s first target for introducing Bowman by 1995 was missed for technical, industrial and budgetary reasons. By 1999 the Department had lost confidence that its original preferred supplier could deliver a system that would meet its requirement by 2004 and which would offer value for money. So in 2000 it launched a fresh competition that led in 2001 to the appointment of General Dynamics UK to begin to deliver Bowman by 2004. In 2002 General Dynamics UK also won the contract to develop and supply CIP, to be installed in army vehicles, in ships and in aircraft concurrently with Bowman. The sensible decision to manage these contracts as a joint programme reflected the need to avoid taking military units out of service twice for conversion, but added to the challenges of the programme.

Bowman was declared in service in April 2004 but, not unusually, with some shortfalls in capability (27 provisos, 20 of which still apply, against the achievement of 18 of the Department’s 19 key user requirements). CIP achieved in-service status a year late in December 2005 with 32 provisos. The Department and General Dynamics UK have agreed a recast programme for complete delivery of the programme, through enhanced technical solutions, with removal of any remaining provisos by 2007. Other, still-evolving and technically difficult requirements such as exchanging information with coalition partners, and the ability to quickly retrieve and share data, have been taken out of this recast Bowman CIP programme to reduce risk. The way forward for these is to be assessed in a new £10 million validation phase.

Today’s report contains recommendations to the MoD on how it can further develop its arrangements for the delivery and sustainment of such complex military capabilities. The recommendations relate to the particular problems encountered by Bowman CIP, but have wider application. They include

  • the need to work towards clearer programme management arrangements that meet good practice as defined by the Office for Government Commerce,
  • more explicit measures to assess the extent of concurrency and contingency within major programmes, and the risk this poses to timescales,
  • the need to develop more flexible programme milestones, such as in service dates, which recognise that systems undergo constant enhancement, while increasingly being delivered in increments, over extended periods and not in one delivery,
  • better information on the numbers, configuration and distribution of vehicle fleets when planning major installation programmes, and
  • Extending the use of joint boards of suppliers and officials, an approach championed on Bowman CIP, to tackle the challenges of linking up, and integrating, systems and networks that need to interface.

“The introduction of Bowman and CIP provides the first increment of a world class military communication, command and control system, which is delivering considerable benefits to the UK armed forces. The timescales set for the original programme in 2001 were overly ambitious given the technical challenges that emerged and the sheer scale of the conversion. To ensure delivery of the recast programme by 2007 the MOD and its contractor General Dynamics UK should continue to respond flexibly to inevitable change and to the remaining technical challenges."

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO


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