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Bowman report highlights MoD misses

'Too ambitious and poorly managed'

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The National Audit Office (NAO) has said the Ministry of Defence needs to raise its game in managing major projects.

It has made recommendations on how the MoD can improve its arrangements for delivering complex military capabilities as part of its report on the Bowman digital communications platform, published on 25 July.

The NAO also identified several difficulties in the Bowman programme, which caused significant delays and added £121m to the cost. The most notable was that the 30 months set for the original programme in 2001 was too ambitious.

The main recommendations in the report place an emphasis on the planning and management of such projects:

  • the need to work towards clearer programme management arrangements that meet good practice as defined by the Office for Government Commerce;
  • more explicit measures to assess the extent of concurrency and contingency within major programmes, and the risk this poses to timescales;
  • the need to develop more flexible programme milestones, such as in service dates, which recognise that systems can be improved during delivery;
  • better information on the numbers, configuration and distribution of vehicle fleets when planning major installation programmes;
  • and extending the use of joint boards of suppliers and officials.

Among the shortcomings highlighted in the report was that the MoD did not appoint a senior responsible owner of the project. It suggests that in future the department should pair a senior official with the programme manager for each large project.

It also says the risks were not properly managed, that some of the decision making lacked an understanding of changing circumstances and demands, and the business case understated the costs, timescales, and technical challenges.

Bowman, which involves the supply of a family of digital radios and the associated Combat Infrastructure Platform, was launched in 2001 under a contract with General Dynamics UK with plans for minimum military capability to be available by mid 2005. It is now expected to reach capability by mid 2007.

The NAO report says it is already in operation in some areas, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and is acknowledged to be quicker and more secure than the Clansman radios it is replacing. But it will not be possible to assess the full benefits until the armed forces use the full fielded system.

NAO head Sir John Bourn said today: "The introduction of Bowman and CIP provides the first increment of a world class military communication, command and control system, which is delivering considerable benefits to the UK armed forces.

"The timescales set for the original programme in 2001 were overly ambitious given the technical challenges that emerged and the sheer scale of the conversion. To ensure delivery of the recast programme by 2007 the MOD and its contractor General Dynamics UK should continue to respond flexibly to inevitable change and to the remaining technical challenges.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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