EVO, the first stage of the UK’s Project Morpheus command, control and communications overhaul for British land forces, seems troubled.
Project Morpheus is a complex, multifaceted programme. It is overhauling the military communications and Command and Control (C2) systems used by British land forces. The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) says the programme is worth almost $4 billion.
Open and Modular
Project Morpheus’ initial step is called ‘EVO’, MOD shorthand for Evolve to Open. The ministry says EVO “will change the current vendor tied system into a vendor independent and open information architecture system”. This will give “the MOD … greater flexibility over the future evolution of the system.” In April 2017 General Dynamics was awarded a contract worth $437 million to develop the EVO architecture. This will evolve the current Bowman tactical communications and C2 architecture into an “open and modular” system.
Bowman, chiefly used by the British Army, entered service early this century. It should remain in service until 2026, according to open sources. The current Bowman architecture includes a plethora of tactical radios and C2 systems. Bowman’s capabilities have steadily improved throughout its life via a series of spiral upgrades. The latest of these is known as the Bowman Combat Infrastructure Platform-5.6 (BCIP-5.6) initiative. BCIP-5.6 forms part of the MOD’s Land Environment Tactical Communications and Information Systems (LETACCIS) initiative. LETACCIS comprises several other communications, C2, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programmes mainly relevant to the British Army.
EVO is tasked with taking the BCIP-5.6 architecture and evolving it into an open, modular design so it can easily and safely accept new hardware, software and capabilities when they become available. The MOD says this approach will “enable (it) to integrate and deploy new capabilities selected from across (i)ndustry in a faster and more cost effective manner”.
How is EVO doing? Hard to say for certain but the word on the street is not good. UK media reports in April spoke of EVO suffering significant delays. One analysis by Battlespace in November 2021 blamed delays on finance and capability issues. The article alleged the MOD had not paid General Dynamics the full amount for the contract and had halted development while it considered the programme’s trajectory. EVO’s putative reconfiguration was said to reflect wider MOD priorities reflecting Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concepts. Broadly speaking MDO stresses ever-closer intra- and inter-service networking for personnel, sensors, platforms and weapons to achieve adversarial overmatch. Concerns have been expressed over the architecture’s cyber and electronic warfare resilience in its present form. Battlespace’s analysis hints that EVO is now being re-imagined to embrace MDO concepts and improve resilience, hence the delay.
Six months on from Battlespace’s analysis and it appears that these problems are no closer to being resolved. A highly placed MOD source familiar with the programme hinted at concerns over General Dynamics’ approach. Speaking to Armada at this year’s Eurosatory exhibition, industry sources reiterated that problems were being experienced with EVO. One source told Armada elements of the MOD’s approach and aspirations were causing difficulties. They accused the ministry of putting the cart before the horse, chiefly of having overly specified goals for the entire Morpheus programme. They argued that a better approach would be to have less restrictive aspirations regarding Morpheus writ large. These could be implemented more easily with modest and flexible steps, they asserted.
An MOD spokesperson told Armada that “Morpheus is one of several programmes working to deliver the next generation of tactical military communications for land operations … We are reviewing the next steps on how to best take the programme forward.” They said the ministry is working to mitigate delays and that these will not compromise the security of the tactical communications and information systems to be delivered. To this end, the MOD is in negotiations with General Dynamics’ UK mission systems subsidiary.
To be fair, changing a standard tactical communication and C2 architecture into one which is fully open and modular to easily and safely accept new hardware, software and capabilities was always going to be tough. This was complicated by the rapid strategic change from large-scale counterinsurgency in places like Afghanistan towards the return to high intensity peer-on-peer conflict heralded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Nonetheless, EVO cannot be allowed to fail. Bowman is in its twilight years. EVO is a hugely significant bridge between the communications and C2 systems of today and the advent of Morpheus, however that may look. The MOD can take some time to look afresh at the programme ensuring it is fit for purpose. Yet excessive time is a luxury the MOD does not have. For the sake of Britain’s land forces, it must get EVO back on track forthwith.
by Dr. Thomas Withington