back to article Army's £114m battle-comms net not up to Afghan demands

British forces deployed in Afghanistan have been forced to beef up a hundred-million-pound military communications network using commercial equipment ordered from Israel. The Cormorant system, ordered to replace the various legacy and ad-hoc off the shelf comms systems formerly used by the UK's rapid-deployment forces, was …


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  1. Andrew Tyler 1
    Black Helicopters


    I would guess that the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan would actually make for some fairly difficult communications problems.

  2. Gordon Ross Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    The other side of the coin..

    "Thus it seems difficult to escape the conclusion that the £114m Cormorant system is simply not up to the job for which it was designed"

    Or, it could be that the system (which would have been speced up nearly a decade ago) is already obsolete, as it's unable to cope with more modern demands ?

  3. touchwood


    Doth not ye Cormorant hath a stone within it's gullet to stop eating ye fish?? Methinks there be also a similar stone herein, nay??


  4. Anonymous Coward


    Quote: It seems hard to imagine any war which would require less comms than Afghanistan

    You are probably wrong here. The lack of "large" targets and the highly dispersed nature of the threat results in much higher data usage. The voice usage is also much higher because of potential hostiles being acquired and assessed by front-line patrols which have to report to base and base has to coordinate all of that.

    If the bases sieve through raw (or partially processed) data themselves the links are overcapacity straight away. If the data is analysed centrally, the number of potential targets in an Afganistan-like environment is capable of overwhelming any data network.

    Pretty much a lose-lose situation.

  5. David Webb

    Seems ok to me

    Looks quite simple to me, the Radwin provides a wireless backhaul that the Cormorant system doesn't currently provide. It looks like the Cormorant system is a wired system, from the link you provided it shows no evidence that the system has built in wireless connections, so they have simply added the functionality rather than being stuck using dial up. I think its a testament to good design that the system can easily integrate with off the shelf third party tools to fill in the gaps that the system has, rather than being stuck without that ability.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Once again

    like Leyland cars, UK shipbuilding and motorcycle industry...pump money at it and hope it'll get better.

    Cormorant was overpriced from the start, what cost in lives to keep 330 jobs?

    eurofighter next big drain on UK taxpayer for little return and years of extr "modification costs" to do the job it was supposed to do from the star

    proud to be british....not for 30 years now

  7. Dan 7

    Buy Blitish !!!

    So once again the British Armed Forces have been made to buy British products that are quite frankly inferior, when the non-British alternatives available to them have been far superior. We've seen this with all sorts of equipment the UK Forces use, the SA80 being the most well known and infamous one. The alternative to the SA80 at the time was an Italian made rifle that was excellent and precisely what the Army wanted but they were told they HAD TO have the SA80 as it was British made. Whilst the SA80 has many fine qualities, the rifles themselves were utter pants until Heckler and Koch (the famed GERMAN weapons manufacturers) got hold of them and fixed them in the SA80 A2.

    Thing is that its the Politicians who tied the Armed Forces hands with inferior products, and lacking equipment. Probably so there's plenty of cash so they can get their overly inflated expenses paid.

    And this isn't a new thing......I used to date the daughter of one of our Admiral's, and his job was to procure what the Navy needed. He was basically told to STEAL fuel and munitions from the Army and RAF so as to equip our warships which couldn't leave Portsmouth as they had empty fuel tanks, and nothing to shoot.

    Im not saying that we should not use British items, just that if they are not the best then we shouldn't use them. Maybe that will force the British firms to buck their idea's up and improve the products so that they are the best again. Because this isn't causing downtime or delays, this is our boys LIVES that are on the line because of these crap items !!!!

  8. Andy Moore 1

    Again and Again

    Nimrod, Blindfire, SA60, Chinooks. The list goes on.

    It would be cheaper more often than not to give these UK workers half a million and tell them to go home.

    Too many incompetent people in the supply chain and none of them have to take responsibility for their actions.

  9. Apocalypse Later


    At least 114 million pounds is not a lot of money as these boondoggles go.

  10. Graham Marsden


    And how many British jobs did that "save"?

    Let's say it was 1000 for the sake of argument. So they could have given each of those workers £50,000 and said "Go and find another job or take a year off" and still have over half of that £114m left over which would probably have paid for the Israeli system...

  11. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit
    Dead Vulture

    Tut tut Lewis,

    you're slipping into your old ways.

    Quote "It seems hard to imagine any war which would require less comms than Afghanistan"

    Why imagine - look in a history book. Wars have been fought and won with less comms than that in Afghanistan today. Therefore either less comms were required or the winning side was just plain lucky in every case.

    Quote " and one could plausibly suggest scenarios which would be a lot more demanding. "

    So it's fair to use imagined scenarios to support your argument? I'm sure if you had any interest in doing so you could equally well imagine scenarios that required less communication. But you have no interest in doing so as it would undermine your point.

    Quote; "Thus it seems difficult to escape the conclusion that the £114m Cormorant system is simply not up to the job for which it was designed.:"

    Read the requirements document have you? Cormorant was designed to meet a written specification, a set of performance characteristics agreed between the developer and the customer. Normal practice in every area of real world industry. Have you read the test reports that validate performance against those documented requirements? Can you quote the lines of the specification Cormorant fails to meet? No? I thought not.

    I have little doubt that Cormorant fails to meet the spec Lewis Page would have written. But the MOD did not try to buy the Lewis Page spec, that I hazard would have been rather more expensive.

    Maybe they just needed a bit more bandwidth. Maybe more Cormorant kit could have perfectly well provided that but was not available off the shelf. Perhaps we should applaud the MOD for fulfilling a requirement in the most timely fashion rather than propping up more Welsh jobs with added delay.

    Having two independent and complimentary systems backing each other up is such a terrible idea too.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The problem isn't usually the manufacturer, it's the 'kin Ministry which can never make up it's 'kin mind about what it wants. This applies to most Ministries, as they agree a contract to deliver one thing, but take so long to procure it that by the time the contract is let, what they have bought is obsolete and no longer meets the requirements. 80% of the time it's because some politician has moved the goal posts, the other 20% because technology moves faster than government

    This generally ticks of not just the supplier but also the procurement team. The only winners usually are the consultancy team that produced the requirements in the first place because they have *ugg**d off and don't have to live through the trauma of having to change the contract, and still deliver to time, by which time the government has changed and the goal posts have moved again.

    Oh, and then there's the trick of getting your supplier to make a decision for you, so that if it's wrong you can blame them, and get the money back.

    Bit surprised the MOD would buy Israeli comms kit though.

  13. RainForestGuppy

    Ongoing needs

    Who still uses the same internet connection that they did in 2004? Can you use iplayer on your 56K dial-up connection?

    I think the problem is the pace of change and the lack of fore thought in government procument process, not with technology delivered.

    If you had spec'd RADWIN nearly 10 years ago it would not be able to cope with current data needs.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Why imagine - look in a history book. Wars have been fought and won with less comms than that in Afghanistan today. Therefore either less comms were required or the winning side was just plain lucky in every case."

    However in such wars the "otherside" also had similar levels or lower levels of communication ability. You may think that a rebel group on foot, and occasionally jeep back wouldn't have much communications ability however they have plenty (a mobile phone or a guy on a motor bike is more then enough in the correct situation.) That doesn't work well for a standard mordern army (needs to control aircraft, send detailed plans and intelligence to manuver lareg numbers of troops, everyone in near real time communication, logistical support, supplies, administration, burocracy.)

  15. Trygve

    Do you lot even read articles before commenting?

    @David Webb - What part of " Asynchronous Transfer Mode over radio" in the article and the assorted mentions of VHF and Satellite in ARRSE make you believe it is a wired-only system?

    @Gotno brains - I'm sure Cormorant would have been a triumph if used in WW2, or even in Gulf 1. But unless you're Dr Who, you're better of limiting your speculation to 2002 and after, since that timeframe is actually relevant. Given that the military systems of ANY nation that arrived on time, on budget and to spec can be counted on the fingers of one hand, I find it hard to believe that this is the one and only time the MOD and EADS managed to pull off a blinder and deliver great stuff to a great spec and only two years late.

    Seems more likely it was overpriced crap and now we're paying over the odds for rush delivery of bog-standard equipment to add to the existing COTS Nortel/Merdian/Oracle solution EADS cobbled together. What's "Independent and complimentary" about adding more OEMs and system integrators to the existing network?

  16. Ozwadi Ogolugi


    The Welsh on the other hand are good at doing things with sheep. Comms they are abviously not so good at........

  17. Anonymous Coward

    What no Bowman references?

    Surprised nobody has taken the excuse to slag Bowman off again - or is that just cos it's made by a "British" firm rather than those dashed unsporting Jerries who own EADS? (even though GDUK is technically American...)

    AC @ 11:51 has it right - it's not the fault of the designers, or the manufacturers that the kit is too old-fashioned and outdated to work properly - so how about putting the blame where it really lies and having a go at the Ministry of Dunces who keep fracking up the Requirements and procurement? They expect a finished product to test (almost) to destruction, then turn round and ask for more bells and whistles to be added even though it doesn't help functionality and rarely benefits the end user - the fightin' men and women who put their lives on the line for our continued freedom. Then, when the MoD finally get around to ordering the kit it's already superseded, but it then takes as long - if not longer - to test the new version so the manufacturers don't usually bother (and they can always make more profit when it's ordered as a new project instead).

    And I do so love it when people who don't have a foggy clue about how the military work start spouting bullshot about how they obviously don't need so many boats, tanks or aircraft since they did so well last time without having to use them all, or that Service A should be disbanded and their kit - and BUDGET - given to Service B because they would make *much* better use of it... and it's really annoying when the complainer should know better (looking at you here, Lewis...)

    How many of the people who keep slagging off Eurofighter actually know enough about modern combat aircraft and the environment they work in to be able to offer well-founded criticism rather than just quoting something they read or heard somewhere else? Same applies to other military systems too - don't bitch about stuff unless you know what you are talking about.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Pure speculation

    I love how many people seem to speculate about things they clearly know nothing about. I bet not one of you are involved in the MOD or said Comorant system in any way.

    Another thing suprising or unsuprising (im not sure which) is the complete lack of research by the author, also seems to be lots of speculation with no backup to claims.

    I didnt mind Lewis' often satrical and obscenity ridden articles but im starting to go off them in a big way.

  19. Scott Broukell

    that reminds me ....

    "send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance"

    (send reinforcements we're going to advance)

    mangled as it was verbally passed down the trenches in WWI, so the story goes.

    Any old way, to cap it all "Nobody tole ME we had a communication problem!"

  20. Dave Bell

    Changing times

    Military procurement seems to move at a glacial pace. The Eurofighter program didn't get started until the mid-eighties, and that was building on an existing prototype.

    Ten years later, at least we could play the flight-sim game.

    We worry about the pace of change of technology, and whether procurement can cope with the change, but aviation in the 1930s was changing more rapidly.

    It's a good thing we weren't that slow getting the Spitfire into service.

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    ATM over radio. That's 155mbs?

    Which would have been impressive 10-15 years ago.

    And ATM is (IIRC) a world wide ISO standard.

    But can you say Gb Ethernet? VoIP?

    It does look (once again) like an MoD procurement SNAFU.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    EADS - how'd that 'A' get in there? Can't have imposters stealing EDS's thunder now can we?

    And Paris because she could probably do with an A if it's going spare.

  23. proto-robbie

    A simple solution

    We supposedly have 100,000 defence secretariat and boffins for 200,000 armed servicemen. Let the boffins work on saving the planet, and pay off most of the secretariat with the £50 billion or so we will save in not having the 7-10 years lead time spent in research, design, build, test, throw away, start again & late deployment of obsolete kit designed for previous theatres of war.

    Unless we have a world-leading UK version debugged and ready to roll we should simply buy the best available from around the world. In a first-world economy this is normal practice for all other consumer goods, so why not for Defence?

    I worked in a technically excellent Defence supplier as well as in the RN some thirty years ago, and nothing much seems to have moved on since then. One difference is, however, that the Government seems less able or willing to try to plug the gaps now than during the Falklands or Gulf Wars, costing soldiers' lives and global credibility.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @Dan 7 H&K

    If I remember correctly H&K is now owned by BAE, as is Smith and Wesson which makes your point silly.

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