The UK Armed Forces’ Dismounted Situational Awareness (DSA) soldier solution will continue to experience delays, prompted by the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) avoidance of any risk in its decision-making.

While the Armed Forces have the sufficient funding required to procure the radios they need for the next level of procurement, the MoD is unwilling to give its approval as they do not want to commit until the risks have subsided.

Already set back by a six-to-nine-month delay, DSA, a project that began in July 2021, was originally anticipated to last for two years with an option to extend the programme for another six months. The combined contract valuation option was not to exceed £9m ($11.5m).

Delivery uncertainty took a turn for the worse as the Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge, introduced new acquisition reforms at the end of February 2024 that placed importance on the exportability of the MoD’s new systems and a greater emphasis on spiral development.

“Delivering new equipment and technology more quickly is key to the overall reforms, and the concept of ‘spiral’ development will be at the forefront as new programmes are initiated,” the MoD observed.

“Rather than striving for perfection before delivering to the frontline, capabilities at 60-80% of their full potential will be provided to the user, allowing early application, and subsequent improvements to reach their full potential.”

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However, the problem with DSA is that the Government is unsure how successfully it will be able to spirally develop these new radios for the long-term. Ironically, this curbs the MoD’s plans for delivering a faster acquisition process.

UK extends Bowman radio system

Currently the UK Armed Forces use the Bowman combat radio, a system supplied by General Dynamics UK since it was originally awarded a contract for the communications system since 2001. However, a planned update to sustain the in-service Bowman system is currently underway as future systems in development face delays.

“The update will deliver new hardware and software ensuring troops on the frontline continue to have a secure communications system.”

As the Bowman 5.7 project is still in development and subject to approvals the procurement strategy is yet to be confirmed.

Concerns over Morpheus

Another MoD tactical communications network programme – a £3.2bn programme known as ‘Morpheus’ – was said to be at risk of delays in May 2023.

A UK Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report “expressed series doubts” about whether the MoD Equipment Plan was affordable, or agile and responsive enough to react to a changing threat environment brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Given National Audit Office’s assessment of the MoD Equipment Plan for 2023-33 in December 2023 identified a deficit just shy of £17bn – the MoD’s largest shortfall in the history of the Equipment Plan – this is a legitimate concern.

There was a “significant risk” that the UK could not provide Nato with an operational Army division, with programmes such as the Ajax armoured vehicle and Morpheus communications system “beset by problems and delays”.

Additional reporting from Richard Thomas.