March 1, 2024

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UK government ends battlefield radio contract with General Dynamics

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The UK government has ended a £395mn contract with General Dynamics after the US defence company failed to deliver a key part of a programme for the British Army’s new military communications system.

The £3.2bn next-generation tactical communications system, known as Morpheus, is due to replace technology first introduced almost 20 years ago.

General Dynamics should have provided a “lab-tested design” for a key part of the project in December 2020. But James Cartlidge, the defence procurement minister, said in a written statement on Thursday that delivery against the original timescale was “not met” and that progress on the Morpheus project had fallen “short of what we expected”.

As a result, he added, the contract “has now been concluded”.

Sometimes described as the “brain” of the army’s future armoured vehicles, Morpheus is pitched as a network that will connect sensors, commanders and weapons. The project involves both software and hardware, including battlefield radios.

It was due to enter service in the middle of this decade, replacing the current in-service Bowman system but the procurement has been beset by delays, with critics branding it the “next procurement disaster”.

The Ministry of Defence in 2017 awarded the contract to General Dynamics as the lead contractor for a key part of the project, to ensure that the new system, once developed, would have an “open data architecture approach”, enabling greater flexibility for future upgrades.

Cartlidge declined to provide any details on the discussions with General Dynamics, citing “commercial confidentiality”, but he added that the arrangements around the cancellation had been “verified” by both the Treasury and the Cabinet Office as “representing the best value for money approach for the taxpayer”.

He added that the MoD had commissioned the Cabinet Office’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority to conduct an independent review of the Morpheus project. Ministers would also reconsider the requirements that the project is due to deliver, with conclusions expected in the spring.

The department will continue to work with General Dynamics to ensure it delivers a planned update to sustain the Bowman system until Morpheus is in operation, Cartlidge said.

General Dynamics declined to comment. It is the second problematic procurement that the company has been involved in with the MoD. It is also the lead contractor for Ajax, the British Army’s long-delayed armoured vehicle programme.

“It is amazing how this has dribbled on for years,” said Francis Tusa, editor of the Defence Analysis newsletter, adding that the “strategy for the procurement [of Morpheus] has been flawed from the start”.

Additional reporting by Lucy Fisher

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