Widely cited problems with the British Army's new AJAX Armoured Fighting Vehicle, which is meant to be its “eyes and ears” on the battlefield, have been reported.
According to various media reports, trials of the British Army's most sophisticated armoured vehicle were temporarily suspended as a precautionary measure to deal with a range of issues, including excessive noise and vibration inside the vehicle at speeds of 20 km/h, the inability to fire the vehicle's cannon whilst on the move, or reverse over objects 20 cm high.
Citing a leaked government report by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which works with the Cabinet office, The Telegraph newspaper reported that trials were suspended from November 2020 to March this year, after troops "suffered swollen joints and tinnitus."
The Ministry of Defence is quoted as saying that training on the AJAX variants has since recommenced “with appropriate safety measures in place.” The Army, MoD and General Dynamics Land Systems-UK (GDLS-UK) are believed to be working together to resolve the problems identified in the trials.
Noise and vibration inside armoured fighting vehicles is a common complaint from crews. A NATO report on Protecting Crew Members against Military Vehicle Noise says “New vehicle types are quite often noisier than the ones they replace,” and that “it is becoming increasingly difficult to adequately protect military personnel against noise.”
“Noise problems are best eliminated by designing engines, wheels and tracks to produce less noise,” states the NATO report's authors. But they add that vehicle speed and manoeuvrability often tend to be assigned greater importance than noise production.
At a total cost of £4.5 billion, the Ministry of Defence has ordered almost 600 AJAX vehicles across six variants—which is the Army's single biggest order for armoured vehicles in three decades.
AJAX is designed to provide all-weather persistent surveillance and support for the Ministry of Defence's two new Strike Brigades announced in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which by 2025, will be rapidly deployed anywhere in the world to address a diverse range of threats. One of the Army's battalion-sized regiments is slated to swap Challenger 2 tanks, which have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the new AJAX vehicle.
Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for AJAX, which is being built by GDLS-UK at its Merthyr Tydfil facility, was expected towards the end of last year, with Full Operating Capability from 2025. But that timeline has slipped considerably, with IOC still not achieved.
A House of Commons Defence Committee report is highly critical of "severe delays" to the AJAX programme,” which it attributes to "chronic mismanagement" by the Ministry of Defence and "its shaky procurement apparatus."
In its report, the Committee blames the MoD's insistence on “a complex, new generation 40 mm cannon” for the AJAX when other tried and tested alternatives were readily available. Similar problems beset the Warrior IFV upgrade programme, which was recently scrapped by the MoD.
The Defence Committee's report, "Obsolescent and outgunned: the British Army’s armoured vehicle capability," stated that the first batch of AJAX deliveries was originally set for April 2017 but was delayed. “In May 2020, it emerged that the delivery of the first batch of AJAX vehicles was to be delayed further as they were found not to be ready to be accepted into service,” the report states. In evidence to the Committee, GDLS-UK is said to have cited delays in agreeing requirements and challenges with the integration of the 40 mm cannon.
Any delays to the AJAX programme are “particularly worrying,” the Defence Committee stated, as the vehicles are meant to form the backbone of the Army's new Strike Brigades.
An October 2020 Armoured Cavalry Accounting Officer Assessment of slippages to the AJAX programme mentioned reasons for the delays, including: “a degree of underestimation of the challenges involved in generating supporting technical evidence such as safety cases for the first complex and fully digitised land platform.”
"While there is a delay to IOC in this anticipated 15-year programme, we are conducting further analysis to assure deliverability of the full operational capability," the assessment stated.