Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) stands accused of wasting more taxpayers’ money after conceding that it has abandoned a key strand of the struggling GBP 3.2 Bn (EUR 3.73 Bn) Morpheus programme. The failure also threatens to stymie the British Army’s future digitalisation efforts.

Part of the UK’s overarching Land Environment Tactical Communication & Information Systems (LETacCIS) programme, Morpheus is intended to deliver the next generation of tactical communication and information systems (TacCIS) to British forces operating in a land environment.

In order to replace the current Bowman communication system with a future open information architecture solution, thus preventing ‘vendor lock-in’ and giving the MoD more flexibility for future acquisitions, in April 2017 the LETacCIS programme awarded a GBP 330 M Evolve to Open (EvO) Transition Partner (TP) contract to General Dynamics Mission Systems (UK). This work was intended to deliver a lab-tested design in December 2020 and an initial operating capability (IOC) by 2025, but the project failed to deliver.

In a statement to the House of Commons on 14 December 2023 the defence procurement minister, James Cartlidge, wrote, “We have been open that progress on the Morpheus project has fallen short of what was expected and since December 2020 we have been working closely with General Dynamics to agree the best way ahead. The MoD can today confirm that, as a result of these discussions, this contract has now been concluded.”

On 5 December 2023, in answering written questions from Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey, Cartlidge stated that, as of 27 November 2023, the Morpheus project had already cost the MoD around GBP 690 M and that, despite this outlay, the IOC for the Evolve to Open system was yet to be defined.

However, the failure of the EvO contract will inflict additional and expensive penalties. Writing on X/Twitter on 15 December, military analyst Francis Tusa pointed out that the current Bowman communication system will not only have to go through more updates, but will now probably have to be initially fitted to the British Army’s future armoured vehicles – such as the Ajax reconnaissance vehicle, Challenger 3 main battle tank and Boxer Mechanised Infantry Vehicle – instead of the next-generation radios they should have received under Morpheus.

A member of the British Army’s 216 Signals Squadron operates a Bowman 325 HF manpack radio at the British base in Lashkar Gar, Afghanistan, in August 2006. It appears that the UK armed forces’ Bowman communication systems will have to remain in service for much longer than expected. (Photo: Crown Copyright)

In his 14 December statement to the House Cartlidge said the MoD “will continue to work with General Dynamics to ensure they deliver the planned update to sustain the in-service Bowman system, ensuring we continue to meet all our operational requirements”.

He added that the MoD “is now proactively reconsidering the requirements that the Morpheus project is due to deliver, which we expect to conclude in the Spring. This will ensure that UK armed forces have what is required as part of the next generation of tactical communications, recognising the advancement of technologies since the Morpheus project was initially conceived.

“Following analysis of the requirements, we will engage with industry on a renewed basis,” he wrote, “incorporating the lessons learned from this procurement and move towards delivering the next generation of tactical communications systems for the benefit of the whole of Defence.”