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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Gibson MSP

The Ajax Armoured Vehicle Programme - A £5,500 Million Tory Scandal

This programme began in March 2010 in the dying days of the last Labour Government. General Dynamics were selected to develop a new armoured combat vehicle to come into service for 2017.

A £5,500 million contract to manufacture 589 Ajax armoured vehicles was subsequently signed in 2014. This equated to £9.34 million per vehicle.

However, Tory Defence Secretaries have clearly taken their eyes off the ball since.

After 14 years, £4,000 million has been paid to General Dynamics but only 44 vehicles have been delivered to the British Army – at over £90.1 million per vehicle - almost ten times the original unit cost.

Ajax represents the biggest single order for a UK armoured vehicle in more than 20 years. The programme intended to deliver six variants into service: the Ajax infantry fighting vehicle, Apollo armoured recovery vehicle, Ares armoured personnel carrier, Argus reconnaissance vehicle, Athena command post vehicle, and the Atlas engineering vehicle, transforming the Army’s surveillance and reconnaissance capability.

Delays have left the Army reliant on older, more expensive to maintain, tracked reconnaissance vehicles.

In June 2022, a report by the UK Public Accounts Committee found that delays had been caused by a "litany of failures" and advised that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) needed to either resolve the problems or scrap the project, to prevent the compromising of national security.

Trials were repeatedly paused on health and safety grounds. Excessive vibration and noise meant that crews suffered from nausea, swollen joints, tinnitus and hearing loss. Crews were required to wear noise cancelling headphones and be checked for hearing loss at the end of operations. Soldiers had to be restricted to a maximum of 105 minutes inside the vehicle with a maximum speed of 20 mph.

Issues with the vehicles’ suspension meant the turrets couldn’t fire while the vehicle was moving and that they were unable to reverse over obstacles higher than 20 cm. Issues with also reported with the gun of the main Ajax vehicle affecting its accuracy.

After so many redesigns, the weight of the vehicles has ballooned to up to 42 tonnes - heavier than most majority World War 2 tanks.

What is the cause of this fiasco? The manufacturer General Dynamics must take its share of the blame. However, as the National Audit Office has pointed out, the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) requirements made it more complex than other armoured vehicles.

Some components’ specifications and how they would be integrated onto the vehicle were not understood by either the MoD or General Dynamics. There have been extensive changes to the overall design. This makes it highly unlikely that the MoD will be able to recover any of the money poured into the contract so far.

In 2021, defence analyst Francis Tusa scathingly observed that the only thing the Ajax programme seemed to have delivered so far was tinnitus.

The oversight of this project by the UK Tory Government has been shocking, yet little of this project is known by the wider public. Imagine if it had been the SNP Government!


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