Bowman’s life to be extended … again!

Bowman system in deployed command post
The UK’s Bowman tactical communications and command and control system is to be upgraded once more because of the collapse of the EVO project. This latest initiative could extend the life of the Bowman architecture to at least 2031 and possibly to 2035.

The UK MOD’s long-running saga to replace the communications element of the Bowman tactical radio and C2 system used by British land forces enters a new chapter.

In February, Armada reported the cancellation of a major component of the United Kingdom’s Project Morpheus military communications system. Specifically, the Evolve to Open (EVO) stage of the programme was axed. EVO used the latest version of the Bowman tactical radio and Command and Control (C2) system as its baseline, known as Bowman Combat Infrastructure-5.6 (BCIP-5.6). The EVO initiative was being led by General Dynamics’ UK subsidiary. At the heart of EVO was a plan to evolve BCIP-5.6 into an open, modular design. The rationale was to ensure the Bowman radio infrastructure could easily and safely accept new hardware, software and capabilities as and when they become available. The MOD said this approach would “enable (it) to integrate and deploy new capabilities selected from across (i)ndustry in a faster and more cost-effective manner.”

Question time

On 14th December James Cartlidge, the UK’s minister for defence procurement, conceded the long-running problems the EVO project has suffered and that Armada reported on in the past. “We have been open that progress on the Morpheus project has fallen short of what was expected,” Mr. Cartlidge told the British parliament. Sources close to the programme told Armada that the MOD and General Dynamics were at an impasse over EVO’s expectations and deliverables. Although EVO is dead, General Dynamics will sustain Bowman to ensure it continues to support UK military commitments.

In early February, the Financial Times reported that Bowman’s life will now be extended to 2035 at the latest. The news was divulged in a response from Mr. Cartlidge to a written parliamentary question tabled by the opposition shadow secretary of state for defence. Mr. Cartlidge revealed that Bowman will be upgraded once more via an initiative called BCIP-5.7 which was originally commissioned in 2023. In another response to Mr. Healey, Mr. Cartlidge said that BCIP-5.7 is “still in development and subject to approvals.” The precise scope of BCIP-5.7 is unclear. That said, it appears that this might be a relatively straightforward extension of the Bowan radio infrastructure as opposed to the more ambitious EVO initiative.

Bye bye GD?

One thing that does seem certain is that General Dynamics’ role is likely to be confined solely to sustaining Bowman. An MOD source close to Morpheus told Armada that the company is unlikely to be allowed to bid for any future work involving Bowman. Nonetheless, they could be involved as a subcontractor to whichever company is selected for BCIP-5.7.

Despite the EVO setback and the need for BCIP-5.7 the Ministry of Defence’s wider Project Morpheus overhaul of UK land forces communications continues: “Bowman (provides) secure communications on the battlefield,” an MOD spokesperson told Armada. “Having received several upgrades, Bowman will be updated again, ensuring the army continues to operate a secure and capable communications system until Morpheus delivers.”

All eyes are now on whether and when BCIP-5.7 can be delivered and the likely effect of both this, and the EVO cancellation, on Morpheus as a whole. The pressure is on following another cliffhanger in the UK’s long-running tactical communications soap opera.

by Dr. Thomas Withington