BAe warns £1.7bn Bowman project for MoD may collapse

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The Independent Online

Work on a £1.7bn programme to develop a new battlefield communications system for Britain's armed forces will have to stop in the next fortnight unless the Government agrees to provide additional funding.

Work on a £1.7bn programme to develop a new battlefield communications system for Britain's armed forces will have to stop in the next fortnight unless the Government agrees to provide additional funding.

BAe Systems, the manager of the Archer consortium, said yesterday it would begin to wind down development work on the Bowman project and lay-off some of the 400 staff involved if ministers did not agree to bridging finance.

The Bowman programme is eight years behind schedule and has been scaled back massively from the original concept and recently there have been suggestions that the Ministry of Defence might put the contract out to tender again.

BAe said yesterday that it had put in an offer to complete the project for under £1.7bn - less than half its original cost of £3.9bn - and would agree to a fixed price contract if its bid was acceptable.

Under the new proposals, secure portable VHF radios will be available for ground troops in 2002 - two years earlier than expected. But the full system, linking air, sea and land forces through a digitalised battlefield communications network, would not enter service until after brigade field trials had been completed in late 2004 or early 2005.

John Gutteridge, managing director of Bowman, said: "The big issue now is one of time. If the contract was put out to competition again it is difficult to see how it would not lead to further delays in what has already been a delayed programme."

The other partners in Bowman are ITT, which will manufacture the VHF radios; Racal Electronics, now part of Thomson-CSF; and Brown & Root. BAe North America won the order to supply 3,700 high-capacity data radios in competition with ITT.

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