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U.K. Communications On Target

November 2001
By Henry S. Kenyon

Bowman moves the British military closer to a fully digitized force.

The British government has launched its ambitious program to create a state-of-the-art tactical communications infrastructure for its military. When complete, the United Kingdom’s armed forces will have a secure radio system that operates a battlefield Internet jointly across multiple ground, air and sea platforms.

Time is not kind to technology, especially communications equipment. As maintenance and upkeep costs increase, security and interoperability issues begin to arise when new standards and waveforms supercede older ones. Many nations’ armed forces find themselves on the cusp of moving from old analog-based systems to fully digital communications devices that are designed to be easily upgraded throughout their operational lives.

The British Army found itself in such a situation with its aging Clansman tactical radios. Fielded in the 1970s, the radios were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and less secure—the army encountered security difficulties during operations in the Balkans. However, merely replacing Clansman would be insufficient if the new system could not operate with the other branches of the British military. To meet the military’s needs, the U.K. Ministry of Defence (MOD) initiated the Bowman program to develop a next-generation tactical radio.

A tumultuous bidding process ensued that resulted in the government dropping the initially selected consortium and rebidding the entire process last year. In July 2001, the MOD awarded its largest communications infrastructure contract in 50 years to CDC Systems UK Limited, a business unit of General Dynamics Corporation, Falls Church, Virginia. CDC won the £1.7 billion ($2.4 billion) contract largely based on work it had done on a similar advanced radio system for the Canadian ground forces. CDC is now responsible for deploying the Bowman program on schedule.

Bowman is an integrated family of communications systems ranging from squad-level intercoms to division-level networks. Although the army will field the majority of units, all of the United Kingdom’s military services will use the system, explains Brig. Gen. David Lynam, MBE, British Army, director of equipment capability for command, control and information infrastructure. Bowman radios will be fitted on Royal Navy vessels such as landing craft and amphibious assault ships that interact with shore-based units. The Royal Air Force will use the radios for its air defense and local protection units as well as aircraft such as helicopters that interact closely with ground forces. However, the system will not replace  ground-to-air radios used to communicate with fast combat jets or other related systems, nor will it supercede marine radios. “Bowman is a joint tactical radio, as far as we are concerned,” the general explains.

A number of radio subsystems will play an important role in the program. High frequency (HF), very high frequency (VHF) and high-capacity data radios will provide a tactical Internet across the battlespace. Features include a local area subsystem that networks combat vehicles, a set of automated management tools and a user input device that allows officers to access any available Bowman radios and data systems directly.

At the division level, local area subsystems consist of switching and data terminals, while smaller tactical units at least will have access to the most basic operational functions—a data service for messaging and position reporting. “People said, ‘Why don’t you just go out and buy a radio?’ The answer is that we needed more than just a radio in the first place,” Gen. Lynam explains.

The Bowman radios are software-based, but the general is quick to note that they are not programmable devices that can have new waveforms added automatically. However, the technology does provide the opportunity to investigate further uses for software-based and programmable radios in the future, he says. The radios also are not multimode or multiband devices, but are largely HF, VHF and high-capacity data radios.

Before Bowman, the British Army did not have a tactical Internet or secure data and voice communications down to the squad level. The general notes that secure communications currently do not extend below the battle group level. Bowman will provide security to all echelons down to squad level. This added security increases smaller units’ operational tempo because they do not have to spend time using manual coding and encryption methods.

The data service also extends voice and information capabilities across all echelons. Previously, the army only had data pipes down to the brigade level with mobile trunk systems at the battle group level, Gen. Lynam explains.

The automatic position reporting system provides troops with information about their battlefield location and the location of friendly and enemy units. This situational awareness tool consists of a global positioning subsystem incorporated into the Bowman communications equipment. The components for this capability are made by Rockwell Collins, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is working with CDC UK to deliver the embedded and handheld global positioning system (GPS) equipment for the Bowman program. The devices are precision lightweight GPS receivers (PLGR)-III and miniature PLGR engines (MPE-S) that report position and velocity, are resistant to jamming, and include fast location acquisition and area navigation functions. The PLGR-III and MPE-S also incorporate a selective antispoofing module for enhanced security. Delivery of these systems will begin in 2002.

ITT Industries Incorporated, White Plains, New York, is providing the high-capacity data radio system, ultrahigh frequency and VHF radios, and supporting software systems to develop the British Army’s tactical Internet. CDC UK selected ITT’s Mercury family of wideband networking radios to form the heart of the tactical network because they can be used to distribute large amounts of data between widely scattered units. An earlier version of Mercury data radios will enter service with the U.S. Army’s first digitized division.

Parts of the Bowman system are based on CDC’s Iris system, which recently entered service with the Canadian Forces. Like Bowman, Iris is a secure tactical radio system that enables battlefield networking and interfaces between units across echelons. However, Bowman differs from Iris in several ways. Iris does not have a high-capacity data radio, nor does it incorporate certain types of tactical interfaces, as does Bowman, Gen. Lynam says.

Iris was introduced as part of Canada’s tactical command, control and communications system (TCCCS). According to Michael Turley, CDC UK’s vice president of business development, the U.K. MOD chose CDC because of its prior experience in rolling out the Iris program. “We’ve done it once. Nobody else has. I think that’s the difference. We’ve done it with the Canadian army, which in terms of rate is comparable to what we’re doing in the U.K. We understand the practical difficulties and the things we’ve got to do properly. These lessons we learned in the Iris program,” he explains.

Bowman will use CDC’s MESHnet information distribution system to provide an Internet protocol-based, integrated voice and data system. It is in use with the Canadian Iris system and entering service with the U.S. Marine Corps as a voice and data distribution system for its direct air support centers. CDC also will incorporate its battleWEB software for situational awareness in Bowman.

Although the MOD selected CDC in part because of its experience with the Iris program, not much of Bowman is based on Iris, Turley says. “That is something of a misconception. There’s very little Iris technology in our Bowman solution. But there is a lot of Iris experience from the systems engineering side—how to put these systems together as end-to-end systems that work—right through to the complexities of putting the equipment into service. There is a very large number of vehicles to equip, and the army would like to retain a capability while we do it. That’s the trick,” he says.

Although Bowman uses different radio systems, it shares some common hardware and software with Iris, and some members of the Iris design team are involved with Bowman, Turley says. CDC also developed a highly automated systems integration laboratory as part of the TCCCS program. This technology is being directly applied to Bowman, and the company will create and deliver training courses for the new equipment.

The first units using Bowman will enter service in 2004 and will consist of a reduced mechanized brigade capable of undertaking operations other than war. The rollout will then continue for three years across the entire army at a rate of two brigades a year. During this period, the Royal Air Force, Royal Marines and the Royal Navy also will be equipped with the systems, the general says.

The new system’s interoperability with NATO and other allied forces is a concern that the MOD is investigating, Gen. Lynam explains. Bowman does have standard interfaces built into it such as integrated services digital network (ISDN), tactical ISDN and other NATO interfaces for use with its local area subsystems. The radios also can operate on a fixed frequency using a NATO cryptographic appliqué. However, he notes that one of the difficulties with technologies such as the frequency-hopping modes used by the high-capacity data radios is that there are no international standards for waveforms or software. The MOD is in discussions with the United States and other European nations to develop potential future standards for use with software programmable radios where waveform data can be exchanged.

Security presents another complicated set of issues. The general explains that the MOD is vigorously attacking the issue of security for the different radio types. Among the areas of concern are hop algorithms, hop sequences and cryptography for over-the-air keying. The system currently possesses a basic level of interoperability with NATO forces with the fixed-frequency cryptographic algorithm appliqué; however, the military will move beyond this basic capability in the future, he adds.

The biggest challenge the MOD faces with Bowman is its implementation. All of the army’s 18,000 vehicles and up to 100,000 personnel in all the services will be trained to use Bowman by October 2007. Approximately 50,000 radios, 25,000 terminals and 8,000 local area systems will be deployed as part of the program. Adding to the challenge of incorporating the radios in fighting platforms such as the Challenger tank and the Warrior armored personnel carrier are upgrade programs such as thermal imager and commander’s crew station upgrades already underway for those vehicles. Another major challenge will be fitting the system onto aircraft because of the complexities involved with adding new components onto an airframe, the general explains.

Risks are inherent in an undertaking of this scale. Up to one third of the army may be out of service at any given time during this period as units are brought up to the required levels. Given the number of peacekeeping operations the United Kingdom is involved in, if an international crisis erupts, there could be difficulties. However, the general notes that the MOD has considered this situation, and the greatest risk is providing the integration, design and coordination within the program’s timetable. “We’ve talked about the large number of platforms involved. The delivery of those platforms at the right time in the right state is really a key challenge to this sort of program,” Gen. Lynam says.

Bowman has a projected life span of up to 25 years. However, the general emphasizes that years from now it will not be the same system that is entering service today because it will be constantly upgraded over time with software and hardware improvements. Items such as the data terminal will differ between the first year’s deliveries and the fourth year simply because the same kinds of microprocessor chips will not be available at that time.

The MOD plans a rolling technology insertion program to keep the system up to date. “If equipment goes back for repair, they will probably put in upgrades at the same time. I wouldn’t want people to think that we’re buying something now that will last for 25 years without any change whatsoever,” the general states. While a mid-life upgrade program will certainly be necessary, the primary challenge facing the MOD is rolling out the initial system, he says.

Additional information on Bowman is available on the World Wide Web a http://www.gdcdcsystemsuk.com.