Flight trials using UK’s new battlefield communications systems to start next year, but wider deployment is scrapped


A trial installation of the UK’s Bowman digital battlefield communications system on the Royal Air Force’s AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin HC3 transport helicopters has been completed ahead of schedule, according to General Dynamics UK.

Work to integrate Bowman with the RAF’s Boeing Chinook HC2/2A transport helicopter fleet is to begin this month, ahead of ground trials of both aircraft types from next February and flight trials from March-June 2006.

Under current plans, 20% of the UK’s combined fleet of 76 Merlins and Chinooks are to be converted to carry Bowman by October 2006 and all of the aircraft will be converted by December 2007. The modifications will coincide with the proposed new date for completion of the conversion of the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade to Bowman.

It was originally intended to have the brigade declared operationally ready to conduct air-manoeuvre missions controlled by Bowman “battlefield internet” technology by June 2006, but delays in the Bowman deployment programme, increased operational commitments and uncertainty caused by the UK’s Future Rotorcraft Capability study forced the army to reschedule its target date.

The brigade’s headquarters and vehicles are set to begin conversion to Bowman next July and the installation process is to be complete by the first quarter of 2007 to allow the start of field training.

The GD-led Apache Bowman Connectivity project to provide communications gateways that allow the Army Air Corps’ Westland/Boeing Apache AH1 attack helicopters to “talk” to the Bowman battlefield internet is on schedule and the first systems will enter service later this year, say officials at the company’s Oakdale site in south Wales.

It has now emerged that a £100 million ($174 million) project, dubbed the Air Manoeuvre Information Infrastructure, to equip the other helicopters and aircraft used by 16 Brigade with Bowman was “completely deleted” by the Ministry of Defence early this year during the finalisation of its 2005 equipment programme.

Under the proposal, Westland Lynx AH7/9s, Aerospatiale Puma HC1s, Gazelle AH1s, Lockheed Martin C-130J/Ks and Westland Sea King HC4s were to be converted to use Bowman. Some radios had already been purchased and GD had conducted trials using a palletised Bowman system mounted in a Sea King before the surprise decision.


Source: Flight International