A senior figure in the United Kingdom tactical communications community has shared with MONS their concerns regarding the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Project MORPHEUS tactical communications system. This will replace the British Army’s existing BOWMAN communications and battle management system from the middle of next decade. The source told MONS that there were three main concerns as regards the overall Project MORPHEUS architecture; the overall robustness and resilience of the system, its affordability and its procurement structure.
General Dynamics was awarded a contract worth $411 million in April to transition the British Army’s current BOWMAN architecture, which includes a communications and battle management system from its present configuration into a more flexible model employing open architecture standards referred to as the ‘Evolve to Open’ approach in Whitehall parlance: “Lots of open standards create lots of openings,” the source added, noting that the need to secure the future MORPHEUS architecture against cyber and jamming attack will remain paramount: “If you look at the way MORPHEUS is being crafted,” the source added, “the Russians would say it’s lovely, but it’s jammable. This shows MORPHEUS needs to be robust and resilient. My understanding is that there is no requirement for MORPHEUS to have any anti-jamming capability.” This creates added concerns regarding the high level of reliance that the architecture places on Internet Protocol (IP) standards as regards the communications it will provide at all levels from the headquarters to the foxhole, creating worries not only regarding jamming but also cyber attack.
A second concern focuses on the funding for the MORPHEUS initiative. The UK faces twin cost pressures, the source emphasised regarding the declining Sterling exchange rate in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union in June 2016. This has seen a significant reduction in the value of the pound since last year’s vote, effectively reducing the government’s purchasing power as regards materiel purchased from foreign suppliers. For example, in October 2016 the currency fell to its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985. Moreover, large scale procurements such as the UK’s purchase of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning-II fighter, with 17 of the aircraft expected to be purchased between 2020 and 2022, could see the MOD having to make major financial outlays just when the MORPHEUS architecture will be expected to start equipping the British Army. The net effect of such financial pressures could be “Project MORPHEUS being pushed to the right,” the source argued.
Furthermore, concerns exist regarding the procurement model that the MOD is using to acquire MORPHEUS. As noted above, General Dynamics is currently working to create the Evolve to Open architecture which form the cornerstone of MORPHEUS so that it can easily accept communications hardware and software during its life span. The source argued that this could effectively remove a single prime contractor from having responsibility for the overall programme, as had been the case with the BOWMAN system which was the responsibility of General Dynamics as the prime contractor. Put simply, if one contractor does not feel that the slice of the work that they could be awarded as a result of future procurements will be financially viable, they may walk away from a contract, the source continued.